My professor assigned me a project as part of a course. The project is part of another student's thesis and has several flaws. I explained the problems of the project to my professor. However, the professor seems to believe that I just don't understand the project and don't know how to code.

The professor now sent the other student on a work trip for seven or eight months, starting in 10 days.

In the meantime, the professor asked me to fix the project and produce the results.

Unfortunately, the project is so flawed that I can't produce results with it. I believe that it's the other student's responsibility to fix the project. S/he also knows the project and it's issues much better than I do.

The professor still doesn't consider my concerns and just pushes me to finish the project. He wants to grade the course based on a publishable paper from this flawed project. (My other classmates already have required information to design a controller, and assigning this flawed project and grading like this is not fair.) Meanwhile, the professor does not even want to talk about a topic for my own thesis. I feel taken advantage of and don't know what to do.


What can I do to convince the professor that I should no longer waste time on another student's broken project but rather start my own? Would it be okay to refuse to work on this project?

  • Hi, can you include a question in your post? It's hard to give a good answer to 'this is my situation; what should I do?'.
    – henning
    Dec 16, 2018 at 8:54
  • hi it is already there. did you get it?
    – nikki
    Dec 16, 2018 at 8:56
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    I tried to improve the structure and tease out actionable and generalizable questions; feel free to revert.
    – henning
    Dec 16, 2018 at 9:24
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    @SolarMike imho this is a better version of the previous question: it points to the real issue with the advisor and I guess it's more likely to be useful to other people.
    – Erwan
    Dec 16, 2018 at 13:05
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    @SolarMike according to the OP's description, it looks to me like this professor is abusing their power (failing or passing OP) to fix a broken research project with another student. So I interpret this as a conflict with possible unethical behavior.
    – Erwan
    Dec 16, 2018 at 13:52

2 Answers 2


The case as I understand it is:

(1) You are taking a course and the assessment is based on producing a publishable paper based on a pre-assigned topic.

(2) The topic assigned to you is not your research interest and appears to be broken, whereas other classmates have been assigned more appropriate topics.

(3) You feel that you are forcibly being roped in to fix someone else's problem.

Point (1) means the professor has the right to set assessments as per his judgement. There's nothing you can challenge here. No, you can't refuse to work on it (unless you forego the grade).

Point (2) is unfortunate, but it's inevitable that some inequality will exist between students. You can voice your objections, as you have already, but it's entirely the prerogative of the professor to act upon them. I would suggest making a calm and composed case mentioning only the perceived differences in difficulty of your project vs other projects. Don't talk about what flaws the project has. It might be a good opportunity for you to try correcting them. Maybe you were assigned this because you have a particular aptitude. Don't fight it before trying everything at your disposal.

Point (3) is a serious charge amounting to ethical misconduct. If true, this should be reported and escalated to the relevant authority. However, keep in mind that this is your interpretation only, possibly subject to bias. If you choose to act upon this, do think long and hard first, being as objective as possible.


What can I do to convince the professor that I should no longer waste time on another student's broken project but rather start my own? Would it be okay to refuse to work on this project?

  1. Write a report detailing the flaws in the project. The report should be written like a scientific document: use neutral tone, analyze objectively the goals and means of the project. For each issue the report should propose a possible solution (e.g. find other data, redo an experiment, etc.), including an estimation of how much time and effort it would require; this way you show why you think it's not feasible without making it a matter of opinion or skill (btw the document should make it clear that you know what you are talking about, obviously).
  2. Send this document by email to your professor, ask for their advice related to the issues you mention. At this stage the professor will realize that you are serious with these issues and they must make an decision: either they reevaluate the project and your involvement in it, or face a possible conflict which might put them in an uncomfortable situation in the institution.
  3. If they don't answer or not in a satisfactory way, then you have to bring the issue to the director of studies or whoever is in charge in the institution.


  • Why does the other student leave in the middle of the project? And why can't they work remotely on it?
  • Don't try to protect your relationship with this professor at all cost. Assuming you explained things clearly to them, it seems that there is something unprofessional going on here.
  • what does it mean remotely? When I asked him, we need him prof. Professor told me he will help you on skype. I have also another student will help you with coding. He started a work, who knows the work better than someone who already started? he thinks that I am talking about learning the stuff and difficulty of learning his work.
    – nikki
    Dec 16, 2018 at 16:00
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    @nikki: working remotely means that this other student would keep working on the project with you even though they are not physically present (using skype, email, github, etc.). It's unclear to me why your advisor insists that you must work on this project but lets the other student get away with it.
    – Erwan
    Dec 16, 2018 at 16:57
  • because he wants to put him in another project. These are funding sources.
    – nikki
    Dec 16, 2018 at 17:28
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    So he doesn't consider this project important enough to be carried out by the person most qualified to do it, apparently. As I said my answer, I suggest that you write down in very clear terms what you can achieve and cannot achieve on this; otherwise he's setting you up for failure.
    – Erwan
    Dec 16, 2018 at 17:41
  • I really do not know, what would be the right action. I am very new to research. It is my second semester of my master.
    – nikki
    Dec 16, 2018 at 17:56

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