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I am doing a undergrad thesis under a professor. We decided to work on some domain say "X" however now he is giving me work related to some other domain say "Y". Both "X" and "Y" can be related to my degree however I wanted to work in domain "X" and there is no relation between "X" and "Y".

I find it very difficult to work on something I am not interested in. I want suggestions from all professor and students what they think I should do ?

Thesis is part of my degree and I don't have option of leaving it. In what way I should talk with the professor to give me work on the domain we decided on ? Our work has just started (around 1 day). If he does not have any topic in mind related to my domain, I can easily find and present some challenging thing to work upon.

When I do some work I am interested in, I enjoy it irrespective of how challenging it is and I have total courage to do it alone. But if i am not interested in it then it's just painful for me.

To be more specific, "X"=AI and "Y"=Simulation. Now the task I have been currently given is : There is simulation written in one language and I have to code the exact same thing in other language. It's around 1000 lines of code. I don't have knowledge of both the languages (since they are not used in AI (i.e they are not python or R)). They are modelling and simulation languages. I have to reverse engineer the code written in one language and translate to other. I don't find how this work is related to AI ? Also thesis is related to research and I don't see what research I am doing here.

2 Answers 2

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There are three possible answers I can give you: a specific answer based on the information you have included at the bottom of your post, a bottom-up answer that hopefully makes sense to you at your current level of academic experience, and a top-down answer which makes sense to me as an (early career) academic but which might not make as much sense to you yet.

Specific Answer

Reverse-engineering code is a common task in some circles of academia. Often I want to use another person's code, but I need to either (a) fully understand how it works, or (b) modify it slightly to do something different that I want to do. In such situations, reverse-engineering is called for.

Therefore, you are likely doing real academic work, even if it isn't exactly what you signed up for, and you will definitely learn something important. Which leads us to the ...

Bottom-up Answer

If you are not sure that you will learn something important doing this reverse-engineering task, then ask your professor. It seems like the purpose of your work isn't clear to you, and when anyone isn't sure why they're doing something they're naturally not going to enjoy it very much.

One way to structure the conversation with your professor is to ask these three questions:

  1. What is the thing we are trying to do that has not been done before?
  2. Why is it important that we are able to do that thing?
  3. How will the work that I do enable us to do that thing?

Be ready to do as much or as little reading as your professor assigns you. If your professor is at all a good professor, they will know that your understanding is key to achieving good results. If your professor isn't a good one -- well, you will still be able to learn something, hopefully. Which leads me to ...

Top-down Answer

From the viewpoint of a long-standing researcher, an undergraduate student often does not know much about the field of their interest. Undergraduate education is all about What We Know, and academic research is all about What We Don't Know, and the amount of knowledge you must have to even be able to ask good questions is often surprisingly large.

This has consequences. For example, a lot of academic work looks surprisingly menial. It looks like understanding old papers, learning boring techniques, repeating old experiments -- and yes, reverse-engineering existing code. What your professor has assigned you may therefore be building a foundation for your future work that you don't appreciate yet.

A lot of academic work, especially meaningful work, is also surprisingly cross-disciplinary. You mentioned that you can't see the connection between AI and simulation. But concepts from simulation -- sampling, ergodicity, entropy, autocorrelation, even free energies -- are vital to machine learning. On a practical level, many modern groups pushing the boundaries in machine learning are doing so to solve simulation problems -- such as the AlphaFold team at Google. So, what your professor is doing might also enable you to make unexpected connections that give you a competitive edge.

So don't be too surprised that you are working on something that doesn't look like your main field of interest -- that is something that not only can happen from time to time, but must happen if you want to be at all an effective researcher in the future. Of course, I can't ask you to take this on faith, and it is your professor's job to at least partially convince you that what you are doing is worthwhile work.

But if you have a clearly-defined goal with clearly-defined significance and a clearly-defined way to achieve it, then you should at least try to work at it for a while before worrying that it is irrelevant to your future.

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  • Wow thanks for so much detailed answer. The only purpose the work has been give to me is to check if the other language is faster than the previous one. If it is faster then he/we will work on bigger model by using it. Do you think it's worth reverse engineering 1000 lines of code and writing in other language ?
    – The_Mike
    Sep 3, 2021 at 6:49
  • Your own uncertainty (that it is worthwhile) is very worth discussing with your professor. But before you do, think about this: the easiest way to get out of this task is to suggest another problem that would be a better use of your time. If you feel you have enough background knowledge to accomplish that, then do that. If you feel you don't, then it will naturally be difficult for you to convince your professor to assign you something else. Sep 3, 2021 at 6:59
  • I do have other tasks in my head and I can accomplish them. I think talking to them would be best idea. If you were professor would you will get offended if some student asks you such questions ? I fear he doesn't get offended
    – The_Mike
    Sep 3, 2021 at 7:10
  • Also I do have other problem or topic which is challenging, can be based on AI and I am very interested to do it.
    – The_Mike
    Sep 3, 2021 at 7:54
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Assuming your professor has some expertise in both X and Y, there is one possibility:

your professor may be trying to build some foundation to X from point of view of Y.

Or, there may be some project which relates X and Y.

1 day is too early to protest that both of you have decided on one thing but now you are asked to do something else.

Please wait for some time. I can not tell how much is a reasonable time, but, I would wait for two weeks and then see if it is working out or not. I would then ask the professor what could be a reason for asking you to do Y instead of X.

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  • Please see my question, I have added few more details so that I can get better help.
    – The_Mike
    Sep 3, 2021 at 6:08
  • I do not know anything about AI or simulation. All I can suggest at this point is that you need to believe your professor at least for a week or two.. You said, "Also thesis is related to research and I don't see what research I am doing here." As I said before, I do not know about computer science but in mathematics, it is not always possible to see what research some body is doing just after spending one day.. Please hold on and see what happens in a week or two.. Sep 3, 2021 at 6:17
  • I think till I complete the work it will be 1 month over and duration is 3.5 months
    – The_Mike
    Sep 3, 2021 at 6:18
  • Since you are in mathematics, let say you have read some topic on operation research and want to write simulation for it, is this research work ?
    – The_Mike
    Sep 3, 2021 at 6:20

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