I am currently working as a research assistant at a University and one of my tasks is to supervise the Master Thesis projects of students in our lab. Most of the projects I manage are related to Embedded Systems and Automation applications.

As part of my supervision, normally I dedicate an hour or two per week for supervision to discuss the development of their project and current issues. Most of the time their issues are related to a lack of technical experience on a subject (which was part of their Master's Course).

As sometimes, the problems are small I will dedicate part of my time to solve it with them. But from my experience, it seems that these issues keep upcoming due to poor research and problem-solving skills. As I am relatively new to supervising Master Students, I would like to know what are some of the key elements to assist them with these type of problems and up to what extent should I help them?

3 Answers 3


There are a range of possibilities, not all good. At one end of the scale you can just provide answers, maybe working out the answer for the student. This is the worst option considered here. Along the scale is your solution which is to solve it with them. Much better, especially if you let them lead. At the other (far) end of the scale is to simply provide them with some resource that is tailored to letting them do it on their own without further help. Even something like a section or even a page in a book. Or a search online that gives them help. This may be too little help for most students.

My own solution would be closer to the latter end, and exactly there with some students. Students need to gain insight and to do that they need to work through the crux of the problems they face. But sometimes they don't notice something that is blocking them. If you work with them a bit, asking for what they have done so far and why, perhaps you will get an idea about the nature of the block. If you can redirect them a bit, with a minimal hint, they will come out ahead in the end.

Students and some inexperienced instructors seem to think that the point of exercises is the answers, when in fact it is the learning that leads to being able to provide the answers. Keep that distinction in mind and also make sure your students understand that. Done well, it can also lessen the amount of cheating/copying that goes on.

  • To expand on this comment, I think it is important for OP to realize that what is an obvious block is not so obvious from the student's perspective. One of the things that OP can do as a supervisor is to help the student be more mindful and reflective of how they are approaching a particular problem. Perhaps the reason OP's student is having issues is because of something systemic with the approach the student is taking, but the student does not have the wisdom to recognize that yet. Place yourself into the students shoes, and try to adopt their perspective, it can be of help in guiding. Commented Oct 12, 2020 at 20:52

I suggest asking your supervisor about how you should deal with this problem. Provide examples of the questions you're fielding. Ask for help, don't simply badmouth the students. Your supervisor will know better than anyone on this site can whether the level of support you are being asked for is more than is reasonable.


I found with a masters research project, it works very well to break the problem down into small chunks, and give the student a week to solve each one. It may not be a week of work but there you go, its easy enough to tackle given the time frame.

Then, when they are done, they have gone way further than they could unsupervised. And they gain confidence (not all students at this level have confident problem solving skills, as they are still learning this).

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