I'm currently half-way through my research MSc in Computer Science (Natural Language Processing) at a university in Canada. I have two advisors, one that was supposed to be my main advisor (who admitted me into the program) and a co-advisor. My advisor has 4 graduate students (3 MSc and a postdoc). Over the past few months, I feel that my main advisor has all but abandoned my efforts.

  1. We're supposed to have weekly meetings but the main advisor will skip them every other week or so for various reasons. For instance, they skipped meeting with me recently to continue to help another graduate student with making edits for a final submission of a paper. I, however, had the same final submission deadline and also needed assistance with making edits from reviewer comments.

  2. When they do join the meeting, they offer me practically no suggestions or feedback. I think I take diligent notes on any comments they provide and I think that the last time that they gave me an action item, idea to implement, or pointed out a flaw in my work was in January.

  3. Initially, I thought that the main advisor may have just been unusually busy for the year. However, I learned that they will email the other two MSc students sometimes 3-4 times in a single day with correspondence about ideas to try. That is, it seems that they are actively engaged in the other students' projects. Further, their meetings with the other 2 MSc students sometimes go for 3-4 hours or even late into the night. Conversely, my meetings, if they take place, are ended at the hour.

The co-advisor still meets with me regularly but they have their own graduate students and so I'm not sure that they prioritize my project. I feel this way because I almost always have to remind them what my project is about at the start of meetings.

Currently, I'm continuing work on my project practically independently with essentially the same amount of direction I would have if I did not have any advisors.

I have some questions:

  1. Should I communicate my concerns with them? If so, how do I communicate this without offending them about their supervisory capabilities?
  2. Maybe I'm being overly sensitive about being de-prioritized and this is a relatively normal situation? Does that seem to be the case?

I would like to work on a PhD (probably at another lab) so I want to get the most I can from this degree.

  • 3
    Here are a couple of possible causes: (1) Your project is going smoothly, you are finding your own ideas, and your advisor thinks you need help less than your peers. (2) Your project is hopeless, so time spent helping you would be wasted. Any idea which? – Patricia Shanahan May 26 at 22:38
  • I don't think it's (1) because my peers are extremely bright. I also don't think its (2) as they have said the work is very interesting and have suggested that we start writing up a paper on my findings (which, I presume, they would not suggest if the findings weren't interesting). I think its (3) that they don't believe in my ability as a researcher and so they'd prefer to invest in people with potential – Sam May 26 at 23:19

don't say "they don't believe in my ability as a researcher", it's self loathe and may become a self-fulfilling prophecy. As a supervisor of msc and phds myself, I think research skills can be learned. Are they pointing you towards resources at the university, like training on research methods? Do you think you lack those?

I add that weekly meetings are a luxury at my university, so maybe your supervision is working fine, and you may have just a bit of envy of the extra attention your peers receive? Or do you think your research is really suffering and struggling to progress?

I saw you've been thinking about possible reasons above, but I believe there are more explanations like (4), maybe the subject area of the other students is closer to what the supervisor does, so they have more to talk; (5) your area is more advanced than what they do so they don't know the methods and don't have much to contribute. I believe that you can talk to the main adviser openly about your concerns. You can directly ask them what they think about your research and where it's going. You can also ask about the frequency of the meetings. It will be a delicate conversation but it's better said and resolved than let accumulate. But the main question is, do you believe it's a good project? Is it interesting and innovative? Are you on top of the literature?

And grab the opportunity of writing that a publication, obviously it's very good for your phd application but also can increase the interest and frequency of communications with the current advisers.

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Based on my experience and suffer I have now, I will strongly suggest you try another lab or even try to apply for a new university for your MS degree. I understand it is a hard decision (or you may think it is irrational or immature) for you now, but when I looked back, With the no or even wrong instruction given by the wrong professor, you will easily get in trap or trouble for science, and unfortunately, you might only enable to realize those problems after several years. Then everything might be too late. So trust me, if you still have time, change the lab. If you do not have time or are too close for the graduation, try to talk with your co-advisor as much as possible and try your best to make only one publication as perfect as possible. Then continue your academic life in a more productive lab with a more suitable supervisor.

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