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A bit of a preface; I am an electrical engineering undergraduate student. Almost exactly a year ago I asked a professor I had as a freshmen (I'm a junior now) about joining a research team. I was very surprised when he messaged me back with "Come see me." Keep in mind, this professor is very old (in his 80s) and foreign born, so he's not the best at communicating in general with me. After sending me home with some totally unrelated papers he worked on in the 60s and 70s, he essentially told me that he'd find something. Well, about a month passed and nothing, so I messaged him again and he said he found something.

He put me with a PhD student working on something that sounded familiar and understandable from digital logic class. Well, we get started and this grad student is very nice. He runs me through some fundamentals of what I need to know. The important part of this is that he never tells me what we are actually working on. The next 6 months of my life turn into studying abstract algebra textbooks, not electrical engineering. I get sent packages of like 15 assorted research papers that look like complete gibberish to me. But whatever, I keep pushing onward.

Well, weeks turn into months and I start to lose motivation because I feel like I am left in the dark. I tell this grad student all the time that if there's any meetings I can go to to please invite me, but I never really get anything back. He finally gave me a vague idea of what we are doing about 6 months in. He seems to have either forgotten about me or just doesn't care. I feel like I am absolutely useless to this research. This further perpetuates me not wanting to even try to hike this mountain. I'm the kind of person that can accomplish great things if I feel like I have guidance. I don't know if he feels like I am incapable or doesn't want my name on his research paper. I am a first generation college student, so all of this is very new to me.

The last I spoke to him was right before spring break where he said he'd send me some materials, then this pandemic hit and I haven't heard from him in like 4 months. Any advice what I should do? I emailed him today and still haven't gotten a response. That old professor that got me the research retired this semester. I've never actually met the professor that my grad student works under because, again, I feel like I am not important.

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    Look for a new research project. This one is a lost cause. – Roland Jun 4 at 7:16
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Undergraduate research feels like it is going nowhere.

That's normal. If it were easy, it would have been done before, and it would not be research.

he's not the best at communicating

That's not normal.

he never tells me what we are actually working on

That's not normal.

if there's any meetings I can go to to please invite me, but I never really get anything back.

That's not normal.

I don't know if he feels like I am incapable or doesn't want my name on his research paper.

More likely he's disinterested.

I am a first generation college student, so all of this is very new to me.

<5% of people with college degrees have studied abstract algebra. Being first generation isn't that relevant here.

I haven't heard from him in like 4 months

The pandemic doesn't excuse zero communication for four months (assuming he's alive).

Conclusion: You are not receiving adequate research mentoring. Find new mentors.

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    I agree except "Being first generation isn't that relevant here." It may not be relevant to studying abstract algebra, but it's potentially elevant to the rest. – 6005 Jun 4 at 12:43
  • Thank you for your response, I was beginning to feel like I was going crazy! Just for clarification, I said I was first generation to say that I don’t know if this sort of academic politics is normal. I don’t really know the culture all that well. – ModularMan Jun 4 at 19:47
  • Many people who are not first generation would have no reference point for this situation either. – Anonymous Physicist Jun 5 at 0:31

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