I'm a sophomore student studying Mathematics and Computer Science at an US college. Since I'm considering applying for a PhD program after graduation, I've connected with a professor to work under him. In particular, I'm working more closely with one of his PhD students. My plan is to work for them for a year. I have good background knowledge in the field and even some previous research experience. We've been working together for a month.

Today, the PhD student received a warning from his advisor (i.e., the professor whom I made contact with) that he's progressing a bit too slowly - he published last year, but it looks like he's not ready for publishing this year at all.

The PhD student told me this and he said he's not sure about his directions, and would welcome my input. Although it's nice to have my input, this makes me very confused about my role in this project. Our field of research is a little theoretical, so I'm certainly not as qualified as him to lead projects and to come up with novel ideas (since he knows the literature much better than I do), but if I don't do this I risk having no publications (which is very important for machine learning PhD applications) at all during this research experience.

I would appreciate any thoughts on my situation.

  • 1
    Defining your role is the supervisor's responsibility (though they often neglect it). Nobody but your supervisor can help you. There are a huge range of reasonable approaches your supervisor could take to defining your role. – Anonymous Physicist Apr 6 at 10:08
  • Could you give some examples of the approaches? – Wiza Apr 6 at 10:10
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    I suspect the PhD student is mostly looking for somebody to talk things through with, both on the technical side and the human side. They aren't asking you to lead the project or hold their hand, they probably want to bounce ideas off you. This, of course, is a fine thing for you to learn how to do well, since talking about some idea often leads to other ideas coming to life. – Jon Custer Apr 6 at 14:33

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