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I am paying for my studies and I have chosen my own theme for my MS thesis. It is in artificial general intelligence and symbolic methods, rather rare theme. I am promising to do all the work fully myself, with some guidance by external researchers. Noone in the department is willing to be the advisor for my theme. I consider this research direction to be of utmost importance, in any case it is far more superior than the machine translation themes to some minor language - themes that are proposed by the department. I am not asking the would-be advisor to be expert in the field, I am asking just formal signature on the papers to continue my own research. Can university refuse to give me advisor? Maybe I can ask my money back? Maybe I ask the university to improve its quality and topicality of its research directions?

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    Can you edit the title? It isn't true that the university is refusing to confirm, they're unwilling to authorise a certain topic, because it is out of scope. – user2768 Nov 13 '19 at 9:02
  • I will just try to be nice. I hope that every researcher is open for prospective challenges, ideas, efforts, for gaining new knowledge and insight (even more if those help humanity), that is why they are at the University :). – TomR Nov 13 '19 at 11:30
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    @TomR Are you implying that the faculty in your department is not open? They probably are open, but they also have other responsibilities and they thus need to prioritize. A good case can be made for interdisciplinary research, but an equally good case can be made for specialization. I know you are upset that your priorities don't match their priorities, but such is life. This won't be the last time you will have that experience. A productive strategy to deal with those instances won't consist of blaming the others for not sharing your priorities... – Maarten Buis Nov 13 '19 at 11:48
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    The way you ask the question makes it seem you really don't understand much about research, which would lead me to guess that you really shouldn't be attempting the stated topic. How about you listen to the reasons your professors are giving you for why your topic is not being approved--your professors are almost surely right. – sesquipedalias Nov 13 '19 at 16:10
  • Do you already have the external researchers agreement to help? If you don't, that could also be a sticking point. – mkennedy Nov 13 '19 at 18:25
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See this from the point of the department: They are giving out diplomas saying "we have seen the work produced by this student and certify that it meets these requirements". If there are no specialists in a given topic, how can they certify that you meet those requirements? When you choose a department for doing your masters then it is up to you to determine that they are doing the things you are interested in. So yes they can and should refuse if they feel they don't have anyone with the expertise necessary to evaluate your work. You can always ask your money back, but in all likelihood they refuse.

You can always ask the university to cover different topics, but universities cannot cover all topics so choices have to made. Adding a topic typically means hiring one or more additional professors. That is a really big long term investment. They are not going to make that investment because a student (who is almost done anyhow) wants that topic.

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    @user2768 Just think about the related work section. Without anyone familiar with the research area, how will they be able to tell whether the dissertation omits related work that should have been cited and described? – Patricia Shanahan Nov 13 '19 at 11:13
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    @user2768 It depends on how far removed the topic is from the expertise present in the department. Often disciplines are split up in a large number of sub-sub-sub-sub-disciplines. Some can talk to each other, and between others there is basically no common ground. – Maarten Buis Nov 13 '19 at 11:26
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    No body should be giving lectures from a text book at a master's level. I definately would demand my money back if the stuff I was being taught on a masters was out of date enough to be in a text book. – Ian Sudbery Nov 13 '19 at 11:51
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    @Ian Sudbery: No body should be giving lectures from a text book at a master's level. --- This is apparently extremely field dependent, as it almost wouldn't occur to me that something at the masters level would be so specialized and new that it wouldn't be in a textbook. Indeed, Springer's Graduate Texts in Mathematics (280 titles) is one of the best known book series in all of mathematics, and there's also the AMS textbook series Graduate Studies in Mathematics (206 titles). – Dave L Renfro Nov 13 '19 at 16:02
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    I don't understand what the discussion is about: There are degrees to being a non-expert. I am from sociology, and there are many sub-fields in sociology that I can understand even though they are not my thing. There are also many other sub-fields that, even though they are supposedly writing in a language I understand, I don't understand a word they are writing and I don't know what they are trying to achieve. I will happily grade a thesis from a former sub-field but not from a latter sub-field. I cannot see why that is controversial. – Maarten Buis Nov 13 '19 at 16:13
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Approach an advisor that you already have a relationship with. Explain that you are an excellent student, providing grades as evidence, if that's true. (If it isn't, I wonder whether pursuing this topic can be recommended.) Explain why you are passionate for artificial general intelligence and symbolic methods, why the research [is] of utmost importance, and perhaps mention why it is superior [to] the machine translation themes...proposed by the department (being careful not to criticise the potential advisor's research domain). Explain that you have found external researchers willing to guide you, providing letters of support as evidence, if those researchers will provide them. You must deliver your message succinctly and coherently.


Can university refuse to give me advisor?

The university aren't refusing: You are refusing to find a topic that the university is willing to supervise.

Maybe I can ask my money back?

Sure, but you're seemingly at fault, not the university, and I think it is extremely unlikely that you have any chance of getting your money back (at least, not in the context of your question).

Maybe I ask the university to improve its quality and topicality of its research directions?

Sure, but it won't help you. (Change takes time.)

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Surely you should have agreed the “theme” with your advisor for it to be accepted and ratified by the institution.

If you have not, then you might need to choose a different topic.

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  • The OP doesn't have an advisor, they cannot find one willing to supervise their "theme." – user2768 Nov 13 '19 at 11:51
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    @user2768 some or many places organise the advisor first, then sort the theme... – Solar Mike Nov 13 '19 at 12:46
  • Thanks for the clarification. That seemingly aligns with my comments (in response to Maarten Buis's answer): Academics can examine work that is outside their expertise. (If that weren't the case, then assigning advisors first wouldn't work, unless advisors have veto rights.) Others disagree with my comments... – user2768 Nov 13 '19 at 14:23
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    @user2768 No, I did not say that... Many places use the skills or areas of their faculty to control the range of themes possible. – Solar Mike Nov 13 '19 at 14:39
  • How does organis[ing] the advisor first then sort[ing] the theme work, if advisors won't supervise certain themes? – user2768 Nov 13 '19 at 15:01

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