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Context: I am a first year master student in mid-level university in North America. I started in September and I’ve almost finished all the required course works. My supervisor is very well-known in his field and he is currently supervising many graduate students.

Problem: My supervisor is a nice guy and he’s very knowledgeable in his field, however, he’s too busy and does not have any time to actually supervise me(or other students in his lab). He is always traveling or busy doing other things and since his lab is huge, it’s not possible to see him more than few minutes a week. Additionally, the area that I work in is a bit far from his expertise and I feel like I’m all by myself and I’m wasting my time and efforts.

Question: Is there anything I can do to improve my experience in the graduate school?

Since no other professor in my department work in my field, changing the supervisor within the department is not an option.

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    A few minutes a week is not unusual. If you're in a huge lab, you're not alone. Seek help from postdocs and more senior grad students in the lab. – A Simple Algorithm Mar 10 at 5:33
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Given the constraints and assuming that you can't move to another institution, I think you are stuck with coming up with your own plan. A well known and respected advisor is an advantage to you provided that he signs your thesis and writes a good letter of recommendation, even if he doesn't do anything else. Sad? Yes. Probably true.

My suggestion, in your huge lab, is to try to start up a study group in which a group of three-six students decides to meet regularly and discuss their work and any blocks they have. Study groups are a feature of Law School, of course, and some other disciplines. Perhaps you can adapt the idea to your work. It would depend on how closely your work aligns. If too different, it probably wouldn't work.

I will also note that some professors consider letting students work almost entirely independently as a feature, not a bug. This is probably more common at the doctoral level, but the large lab you are in makes it almost mandatory. But the ability to work as an independent researcher is an important skill for any academic, though being forced to do it too early is a disservice.

The best advice, however, is to get the thesis done, get it signed, and move on. Look for a better situation in the future.

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    Thank you for the answer. I think I have to stick with the “get the thesis done” since nobody in the lab knows enough about my research topic. Is it acceptable to contact researchers outside my university with a collaboration offer? – Mok.k Mar 10 at 14:15
  • Certainly. Collaboration is always a good thing. – Buffy Mar 10 at 14:18

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