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I’m doing my master’s and I recently had an exam with one of my favorite professors. I spent a lot of time on my paper and got the highest grade and I’m very happy. But during the oral part of my exam, when I was supposed to defend my paper, the professor pointed out I haven’t referenced much literature he mentioned in class and asked if I found anything of the reading material he gave us interesting. I was very tired and nervous and sort of ignored the question/moved on to another subject. I later sort of indirectly asked him to be my thesis advisor because I’d like to do my thesis on a similar topic to the one I did my term paper for his class on, and he said another professor would be better suited (I don’t think that’s necessarily true).

The truth is I reaaally enjoyed all of his classes and found absolutely everything interesting and I really wanted him to be my advisor, but I think he got the wrong idea. Would it be crazy to email him and say I feel weird about the way I dodged his question and explain the situation? I feel like I gave the wrong impression, and that might be why he rejected me. On the other hand, I don’t want to look like a complete weirdo for still thinking about this (it’s been three days), and I think he might have went on vacation and I don’t want to bother him with this because it might all be in my head. What’s the right thing to do?

TL;DR: A professor I really like said he wouldn’t be my thesis advisor, and I think it might be because I didn’t answer his question when he asked if I found his class interesting. But I very much do. Should I email him about it?

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    If he's a nice professor, he will understand that you may have been tired/nervous. Still, that may not be the reason he does not want to supervise you. The topic may not fit, he has too many students or many other reasons may prevail. So, separate one thing, clearing the awkwardness, from asking to be supervised. – Captain Emacs Jun 12 at 20:59
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    You're most probably just being paranoid, relax. – Pedro Lobito Jun 13 at 9:11
  • move on, and learn from the experience – roetnig Jun 14 at 6:59
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    "Asked if I found anything of the reading material he gave us interesting"... trying to guess what's going on in your professor's head, it sounds like he's asking if you even read the readings he gave you, and his impression might now be that you did not. I suppose the imagined implication is that if he gave you guidance during your thesis then you would ignore it then too, so what's the point of him being your adviser. (IMHO it's a bit of a lack of social skills on his part to infer things like that, but he could well have thought this way.) – Mehrdad Jun 14 at 19:27
  • @Mehrdad I honestly think that's not it, because I got perfect grades throughout the year (like, 100/100 perfect) and showed up for every class and everything. I think he was trying to steer my (still vague) idea to something more related to his class but I dropped the ball there.... But thank you for your input! Obviously I messed up hah – Nadia T Jun 15 at 15:32
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If I were you, feeling uneasy about your previous conversation, I'd stop by during your professor's office hours rather than sending an email to express your concern. It's more personal. Pick a time when he appears free. Tell him you've been feeling bad that you may have given him the wrong impression, that you want to make clear that you really like the class and really did find the readings helpful. It's pretty likely he'll set your mind at ease, reassuring you that he didn't take offense and wasn't upset but appreciates your stopping by to discuss.

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    110% agree. In my case and with my culture in mind I actually asked my professor if I could take him to the pub for a drink. It progressed beyond one drink and we became good friends. – MD-Tech Jun 14 at 7:35
  • But you can email if you tend to freeze up and say the wrong thing in person -- and you can explain that in the email. (And perhaps mention that you thought you were to go beyond the course readings, that they would be "assumed knowledge" when writing the paper?) – April Jun 14 at 15:26
  • @April Thank you! I would love to do that but I feel like he'll be super annoyed by it- I'm terrified of messing up further! – Nadia T Jun 15 at 15:37
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    Professors are people too. Treat them respectfully, like any person deserves to be, and you should get equitable respect back. If they bear a grudge or base their future actions on a single negative interaction, then you have learned something about their character, and whether they would be successful as your mentor. On the other hand, a constructive interaction going forward could turn them into a very helpful ally, champion, network source, or even friend. – wwarriner Jun 15 at 15:52
  • When I was an adjunct, I always preferred email because I could present my best teacher-self in response. In person, all the rest of the world's concerns might come out when I responded. (Then again, email had the chance of being buried under a ton of other emails, and in-person meant a definite response.) – April Jun 17 at 13:45
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I would certainly talk to him. It's maybe not necessary to rehash what was said in the exam, that could be awkward. But it's worth asking for an appointment to discuss your research interests and potential thesis advisors. During that conversation, you can "follow your nose" to see if he really isn't a good fit for you as advisor (e.g., because he has too many students already) or if it's something he is open to revisiting.

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Go talk to your professor again about who might be an appropriate alternative. This this should lead to a discussion about your interests and will give you a good chance to express how you really felt about his material. With luck, this will present an opening for you to ask again, but do not be indirect or beat around the bush; ask for what you want. There may be a good reason he can't serve as your advisor (he's over-extended, going on sabbatical, etc), that has nothing to do with you.

Also, let this be a lesson. It is a terrible mistake to allow yourself to look bad in public; this is always true in a graduate program where you are being judged by faculty every time they see you.

Good luck...

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    It is a terrible mistake to allow yourself to look bad in public; this is always true in a graduate program where you are being judged by faculty every time they see you. I am not sure how many times I made myself look bad. Probably a hundred times. Like everyone else. So that would be for the second part of your answer - the first one is very good. – WoJ Jun 14 at 6:27

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