I'm currently starting my phd program in theoretical physics, specifically in quantum gravity.

I completed my masters studies in exactly the same field, under the supervision of Professor X. During that time, he proposed me a project of research. I didn't know if the project was important or useful, because my knowledge about the area was pretty limited.

I found the topic of quantum gravity extremely interesting, but the perspective and the project that Professor X proposed looked to me not very interesting or useful, but I thought that was because of my little knowledge about the area. Even with that, I succesfully completed my masters and even I received an award.

After that, I was searching for phd programs. In the end, I decided to continue with the project that I started during my masters, but now during my phd. I insist that I thought that my belief that the project was not very useful was only motivated by my lack of knowledge or experience.

Now, that I have advanced just a little bit more, we are up to publish our first research article. We have been discussing and talking, and all our work finally cristallyzed into a research paper. The problem that I have is that I still do not see why our project can be useful or interesting.

The examiners that approved my master's thesis looked interested in the project, and one of them congratulated my supervisor for involved me into a project that is different from other projects done during the masters.

What pushed me to publish this question is that, during one of our last sessions of discussion, my supervisor told me that he doesn't know how to justify the project properly, specially for the examiners that are going to read the paper before being published. And something in my mind said: well If YOU don't know how to justify your own project, how the hell am I going to know it?, I mean, are you sure that the project is useful?, will this project give me the opportunity to search for a GOOD posdoctoral position in the future?

Another problem that I have with my supervisor is that It is pretty difficult for me to understand his explanations. He explains things in a very bizarre way. I can perfectly understand the explanations of other people working in quantum gravity, specially the explanations from one of his colleagues. But the explanations of my supervisor are very very difficult to understand, specially when he tries to give examples.

The positive things are that he is patient, and he is always trying to help me. Moreover, he gave me financial support from the budget that the university gives him to go to a conference some months ago. He doesn't have any problems with my own way to work, and doesn't pressure me.

I have been thinking in change my supervisor, maybe start working with his colleague. But I would feel embarrassed If left my supervisor now, abandoning our project, specially if I do it to go with one of his colleagues. Another problem is that I have hear that his colleague, Professor Y, doesn't pay much attention to his students. One of them told me that he felt a little abandoned during his masters.

I received an offer from Professor Y to work in another perspective of the problem of quantum gravity. He didn't gave a specific project, but he offered to help me, but what I need to do in this case is to study more and to think in a project by myself. I mean, I have to study, to think in a calculation or something that I think that It could be interesting to develop, and Professor Y will tell me if the idea is correct or not, and he will give me hints to do the things by myself.

Professor X gives horrible explanations, but he pays attention to me. His project doesn't look very interesting to me, but he is there to help me. Professor Y makes more interesting things, and explain things in a better way, but I'm not sure if he will pay attention to me.

What should I do?

I have been thinking of trying to develop a plan for a project with Professor Y, and after that explain my concerns to Professor X, and to convince him to join our project with that of Professor Y. That would imply to abandom our current project, but not to my supervisor. Both are very good friends, so that could help.

I insist, I am not sure if the project of Professor X will give me the opportunity to search for good posdoctoral positions. And the posibilities in the area proposed by Professor Y seem extremely exciting to me, but I'm not sure if this just an illusion, because, in the end, I'm still a student.

1 Answer 1


I have advanced just a little bit more...I still do not see why our project can be useful or interesting.

Sounds like a natural progression: rather than just trying to understand it, you have now reached the point where you can put the project in context and form an opinion on it. And also, you've now done enough work that it is becoming clear to both of you whether this idea will bear fruit.

I have been thinking of trying to develop a plan for a project with Professor Y...and to convince him to join our project with that of Professor Y

I am not a theorist, so I may be off the mark here....but I think this is exactly right. It is not clear to me that Prof. Y has actually offered you a position, or that he would do so if you asked. And even if he did, formally switching your advisor/project is likely to be a hassle and even cost you some time. On the other hand, pursuing a second project (or even better, an extension of your current project) with an additional collaborator is a natural part of the research process. If possible, I would avoid formally jumping ship on the old project, but instead, consider this project with Prof. Y as a natural continuation (or complementary approach, or at worst a secondary project) of your ongoing work with Prof. X.

It sounds like Prof. X is reasonable, so I doubt he will complain. On the contrary, he will probably be happy to see that you are taking ownership of your research agenda rather than expecting him to spoon-feed you each step. The worst not-unlikely outcome is that he personally has little interest in the new direction and is worried about imposing on Prof. Y, so if you do have to get formal approval from Prof. X, you should be prepared to respond to these kinds of concerns.

  • Hi. Unfortunately our more recent article received the following criticism: The obtained results, even they look rigorous from a mathematical point of view, do not provide, in my view, any significantly novel, or deeper insights into the problem of the understanding of quantum gravity, or of possible avenues that could lead to a quantum version of general relativity. Nov 8, 2022 at 18:22
  • 1
    Sorry to hear this. But, I'm not sure why you are telling me this. Is this the work you were doing with Prof. X? In this case, it sounds like the reviewer agrees with your assessment of Prof. X's project. Did you pursue any collaboration with Prof. Y?
    – cag51
    Nov 8, 2022 at 19:22
  • This make ask, even stronger, if I am in the right research project. It is very very difficutl to formulate a motivation for our project, and Professor X tries to give some motivations, but his explanations are not very clear. Nov 8, 2022 at 19:47
  • Well. I tell you because, perhaps this is a good reason to change my project, or my supervisor. Regarding Prof. Y, I have been studying a lot to achieve the right level to start something with him. However, the topic is technically difficult and I'm just getting to the point where I can pose a question and a project on my own, which is what Prof. Y wants. Nov 8, 2022 at 19:52
  • 1
    Hard to say. It certainly sounds like your project with Prof. X is not going anywhere, as you suspected. My suggestion was to gently pivot toward more promising areas, possibly with new collaborators such as Prof. Y. This still seems like a good idea, if you can manage it. But it may be that a graceful pivot is not possible and only a more drastic course correction will get you where you need to go. As a stranger on the internet, I cannot tell you exactly what to do -- though I'm inclined to agree that you should pursue some course correction, whether graceful or otherwise.
    – cag51
    Nov 8, 2022 at 22:01

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .