I am a junior at a public university in US studying CS. Since start of spring semester of this year, I began working with a professor for undergraduate research (with hope of doing a senior thesis project with him). The problem is that he hasn't really given a project to me (and I don't know well enough about the field to propose a project). Instead, I've just been helping out other people in the lab test their project and doing minor work. At first, I decided to be patient and do the grunt work, thinking that I would learn something from it. But as the semester is ending, I'm starting to feel that I haven't gained much from the work. I honestly feel that I'm not even part of the lab.

I met with him recently and he still hasn't really settled on a project for me to start in my senior year. He has suggested some new topics he might be interested but I'm not even sure I'll be working on that. I decided to stop waiting and look for another professor to work. I found one who was willing to work with me. I feel optimistic about working with the new professor. I did not tell him about my work with the other professor.

I was thinking about telling the first professor (let's call him A) that I intend to work with another professor (Professor B), but (1) I'm not sure how professor A would react and (2) B and A have collaborated before and during the meeting, Professor B hinted that my project might involve collaboration with other faculty (which would include A).

I'm not sure how to proceed with this issue. If I was working on a project for Professor A, I know it would be wrong to switch suddenly to Professor B. But I'm not even doing anything in A's lab. So is it fine if I went ahead and just tell A even if I might have to collaborate with him later. Also, should I tell Professor B about my history with Professor A?

  • 2
    What answer do you expect besides "politely tell them"? – Azor Ahai Apr 24 at 16:42
  • Well I'm assuming that I should tell Professor A about it. Do I need to tell Professor B about it too? – jyoo Apr 24 at 16:45
  • Azor said "them"... – Solar Mike Apr 24 at 16:48
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    Just tell them. They won’t mind the switch. Frankly, it sounds like the first professor doesn’t have time to help you and the second one does. The first professor will be glad to have the project off their plate. – Dawn Apr 24 at 17:47

I agree with Azor and Down: tell both professors openly and immediately, and they will probably be fine with it. There's nothing unusual here. I also recommend having these conversations in person whenever possible, as email is a fraught medium for sensitive communications, and in person you'll get a much richer sense of any outstanding issues or concerns that could affect your project.

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