This is a continuation of my previous question, I believe my advisor doesn't think I am smart. How should I deal with this?

It just so happens that when I asked my prof for feedback, he decided to just drop me. Obviously I had asked for feedback when I saw some signs recently which indicated that he wasn't very happy.

Now what do I do?

I really liked talking to this prof. I was enjoying the discussions. I thought things were well. But he seems to think that I get stuck with simple things! He probably also thinks that I am overambitious (in the few instances that I have tried discussing some other topics with him).

I wrote to my prof asking him to reconsider his decision and reflecting on what could be the issues of his disappointment and what I could do to improve. Obviously he didn't reply.

I met the grad coordinator. He has schedule another between with all three of us.

I wonder whether I should be optimistic about that meeting!

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    That is a very strange reaction unless there's a lot of context that we're missing here.
    – Suresh
    Apr 4, 2014 at 5:59
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    I agree that this sounds like some context is missing here. Without knowing what actually caused the professor to want to kick you out I am unsure how to answer the question.
    – xLeitix
    Apr 4, 2014 at 9:10
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    Dropping someone is also rather extreme as a means to avoid giving feedback. Even if he's dropped you he should still answer the *&^%ing question because he had a responsibility toward you. But once he's ignoring your messages that's for the grad co-ordinator to get into. Like xLeitix says, I don't see how you can proceed until you discover the problem. Apr 4, 2014 at 13:05

3 Answers 3


It's possible that you really aren't capable of doing the work, and that your advisor thought about this for a long time and decided that the kindest thing to do would be to drop you now, before you waste more time.

It's also possible that you weren't really applying your advisor's criticism - for example, you weren't taking him seriously when he told you not to get distracted by new ideas, but to focus on making progress on your original research. Your advisor felt that he was wasting his time because you weren't listening to his advice.

You should really talk to this professor's other students, and find out how they experience him as an advisor. If the other students get along just fine with him, and only you have this problem, then it's possible he just can't work with you.

However, in that case, he should really have spoken to you about the possibility of dropping you before he did it. (Not just making comments about your work, but explicitly telling you, "I can't keep working with you if this continues; this is what you need to do to show me you are making enough progress to continue.")

In any event, I'm going to answer this question as if you are a capable student, and your advisor is just unwilling to let you learn and work at a reasonable pace. (Obviously, I don't know you, so I don't know if this is true.)

In that case,

If your advisor isn't prepared to deal with a student who is capable, and clearly eager to learn and improve, then you should really reconsider wanting to work with him.

There is a professor like this in my department - brilliant, great to talk to, and there is a lot one can learn from him. But he is under a lot of pressure to produce results (he's new, like your advisor). He is constantly making "threats" to get his students to produce work (e.g., telling them their funding the next semester depends on whether their next conference paper is accepted - although he doesn't follow through on these threats). He isn't willing to let students grow and develop as researchers - he expects them to work up to his standards, immediately.

This professor's students are leaving him in droves. They are either leaving school with an M.S. (instead of sticking it out for the PhD), or switching to another advisor. As a result, he's only published one paper in the last two years (which is far, far below standard in his field).

So, you should think about whether you really want to work with this professor, and consider asking the grad coordinator for another advisor. If this advisor is not a capable advisor, you will not be successful with him, no matter how brilliant he is.

If you decide you really want to work with this professor, do not approach this meeting as a student who is begging an advisor to keep them on.

Rather, come as a student who is willing to stay with this advisor, but understands that both of you need to change for this to work. He will have to give you a reasonable chance to learn from, and apply, his constructive criticism. In return, you will agree to take his advice seriously, work hard, and do your best to improve and succeed.

Talk about how highly you value this professor's experience, and how much you want to learn from him. Explain that you take his concerns (about getting stuck with simple things and getting distracted with new ideas) seriously, and want to work on fixing those things - but that growth takes some time.

And of course, if you are able to work things out, and you continue with this advisor, make sure to talk to him often about what he expects from you, and how you are living up to his expectations. Work hard to apply his advice and improve your research skills, and make him aware of these efforts so that he doesn't think you are ignoring his advice.

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    For your first section, i recently saw someone post this link en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect which may apply? Apr 4, 2014 at 3:24
  • @ff524 (1) Given that I have had a great run with course grades I can't be totally sure that I am incapable. (at least my graduate coordinator says that he thinks and has validation from elsewhere that I am smart) May be all of them are wrong..but I don't know.. (2) There are no other students to talk to - he is a brilliant new prof and I am the first student to talk to him. (3) I really want to work with this prof - he seemed to be very nice to me till suddenly this happened!
    – user6818
    Apr 4, 2014 at 7:41
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    @user6818 So what happened? Nobody just "decides" to kick out a student (it's a big hassle for the prof. as well) out of nowhere. Edit: also, I should add that good grades are not a very good metric for research capabilities.
    – xLeitix
    Apr 4, 2014 at 9:12

Do not under any circumstances in any sense force someone to be your advisor that doesn't want to be. Your advisor has incredible influence over your success not only while doing your work, but afterwords, as he or she would be the most obvious person letters of recommendation should come from.

Some advisors are of the "throw them in the pool and see if they swim in my field" type, others are more of the "this is a sort of apprenticeship where I will guide you into my field" type, and there are many other possibilities. Choose one that doesn't want to get rid of you.

The last thing you need is to have the person who has the most influence over both your academic life and great influence over your post academic life to have grudging feelings about the whole affair.

I end with an old joke, but one that maybe sums up my recommendation.

"A good lawyer knows the law. A great lawyer knows the judge."

I don't really believe in that as a principle for lawyers or for myself, but I do think that trying to make the opposition situation work, where antagonistic feelings have developed, is going to be disastrous.


Consider how the rest of the grad students in your group are faring and this professor's history with past students. If there are recurring problems with students, then you don't want to work for this professor. If there are no such recurring problems, then he is probably correct about your aptitude for this work at this time in your life. You are going to need to take a step back an re-evaluate yourself and what you should be doing right now.

Hearing from the comments that you are his first student, my inclination would be to drop him if I was less than 1/3 of the way through my research. Being a brilliant contributor to his field does not mean he is a brilliant advisor. In fact, he is the most inexperienced as advisors can come, having never graduated a student. He has no context in which to judge you other than what he remembers what his graduate student colleagues were like at a different school.

  • The OP said in a comment on my answer: "There are no other students to talk to - he is a brilliant new prof and I am the first student to talk to him."
    – ff524
    Apr 4, 2014 at 14:25

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