I am halfway through my 2 years masters now. I am doing my masters abroad in Asia and slipped into a bit of an unfortunate situation. I originally studied general science as an undergrad and during this time I discovered my nack for programming, machine learning. I had no previous research experience. I was especially interested in the application of machine learning in neuroscience. After listening to the advise of one of the Neuroscience professors at the university I am doing my masters now,I decided to do a masters in CS to get a more in depth-knowledge. He guaranteed me a spot in a laboratory in the CS department that works together with his lab, and also happens to be one of the best in the country. So far, everything was ideal.
Well, once I began my degree and entered the lab, I was given a big government project related to machine learning and neuroscience and was assigned as a leader. Everyone knew I had an interest in neuroscience, and no-one else wanted to work on this, so I was just assigned. It is a large scale research project, involving a lot of money with no concrete definition and I have to come up with a feasible research idea myself.
Well obviously, I have been extremely overwhelmed, have 0 guidance and assistance. Coursework here is also very unhelpful, the general mindset is, "don't care about your classes, learn trough your research". On top of this I am required to take a class out of each field within CS, hindering me in actually specialising within AI, and further burdening me as I have very little background knowledge in most other areas.
As mentioned before, I have no-one teaching me, guiding me nor assisting me. I am expected to know how things work already and publish a paper. There is great pressure for this from my lab-mates and professor and I am frequently met with disapproval as I have no results yet concrete research to present. Besides my main project I am supposed to improve some previous published work, this is solely Machine learning based but is again very challenging as I started from scratch in terms of coding knowledge etc. And again all by myself.
So for the last year I have been trying to not break down completely, working on the Machine Learning related project and thus improved my coding skills. But also lost all my motivation, ambitions and self-discipline along the way. Regarding the project I am "leading", I keep being pushed to doing mainly machine learning research, which makes sense as my professor can only assist me with that. But I have by now 0 interest in the pure field of Machine Learning, am immensely frustrated and feel foolish as any idea of mine is dismissed as too simplistic. This makes me lose my motivation even more. Not once in my life have a been so disengaged, apathetic and undisciplined as a student and I really really don't like it. Our professor only really cares about advising, once we are actually about to publish a paper. My other lab-mates all interned for one year before entering, but are in general incredibly smart and capable; publishing papers at top-tier conferences as a masters student is the norm here - not the exception.
My original approach has been to accept my situation, fake my way through and just write out a master thesis in the end and then escape. But looking back now, I definitely didn't learn as much as I could have, partly due to the lack of guidance but also my lack of motivation. And I absolutely dislike my attitude and seeing how much I changed from being a good, passionate student to what I am now.
So my new plan is, just doing the research I am interested in: Machine learning applied to neuroscience. Read papers, papers, papers, take online classes and brush up on knowledge I am lacking. Since I care about this field, I might actually be able to make myself work again. This also means though, if I ever do end up wanting to write a paper, I will not be able to get any guidance, same applies for my master thesis. In the end this is similar to the first approach, only with me trying harder.
The other alternative is to just drop out. Recharge my batteries, and reapply to a program that matches my interests better. However I am scared of restarting and then realising I am still not able to actually work and study properly. Or the knowledge gap might be even bigger. Also in that case I will lose my generous scholarship, so funding will become an issue and I will live a financially more unstable life.
If I continue the way I have so far, I will still probably end up graduating , but it really feels like I will have wasted 2 years of my life and I am more than certain that I won't continue to work in this field, seeing how I am unable to motivate myself.