Recently, I decided to do an undergraduate thesis (in computer science). Since I just took a course related to the topic I'm interested in, I contacted the course lecturer and asked if he would advise me on the thesis. He immediately agreed.

However, after some chats, I realized that he is not an expert in this area. He read some papers when preparing for the course, but never publish or advise students in this area. He definitely knows more than I do on this research topic, but probably not an expert. Meanwhile, I also found that another professor in our department understands more in this area, but I do not know that professor personally, and neither do I take any of his courses before.

Should I worry about that? The research has yet to start. Should I go for another advisor? Or is this so rude that I should never do it?

There are plenty of similar questions here, but most apply to masters and PhDs. As far as I know, the undergraduate thesis is more about learning how to do research and does not require novelty or publishable (I may be wrong on this, though), so the answer may be different.

  • 2
    What makes someone an expert? I advise people on things I don't publish on myself and, conversely, get advised by people who do not do research in a narrow sub-field, but have enough experience and breadth of knowledge to make valuable suggestions. Besides, advisor (especially for the undergrad) would mostly be teaching you more fundamental things about the research process, if they struggle with some technical details there's always an option to ask someone with more in-depth knowledge.
    – Lodinn
    Oct 23, 2022 at 11:21

3 Answers 3


Undergraduate research is unlikely to be cutting edge. In fact, it rarely amounts to publishable work. A good working relationship with the advisor is therefore more important than first class expertise. If the department trusts your lecturer with teaching a class, you should be able to trust him with supervising you. Also, the rewards for supervising undergraduate theses is usually quite slim, implying that people are not going out of their way to supervise undergraduate research. If someone is willing to supervise you, and has not expressed any doubts about their suitability, then in their judgment, they are capable of supervision.

However, as long as you did not ask the lecturer to supervise you formally, there is no obligation on you. Once the lecturer spends time on you by looking for a good research topic and maybe preparing a list of papers for you to read, then switching to the other professor would be rude. Depending on the circumstances, much thought and work can go in planning a research experience for an undergrad.


Let me suggest that you try to get the three of you together and decide on a plan. If you mention to the one who has already accepted you (say "John") that the third person (say "Mary) has expertise and you wonder if it would be possible to get them involved as well then something might be made to work out.

In particular, John might open a dialog on your behalf with Mary, and if everyone agrees, then everyone might benefit. John might welcome a learning experience. Mary might value expanding departmental expertise in the field of interest.

There is no need to be rude.

However, if that isn't possible and you decide to still work with the one who accepted you, then note that while they may not be experts in the specific sub field, they are probably fluent in the general research process in the overall field, so can still guide you appropriately. If they aren't too busy with other things, they might take this as an opportunity to expand into that topic area. They already had enough interest in the topic to teach the course.

See this question on another site about how some teachers go about things like this.

  • This sounds like a good idea. I'll discuss with the professor. Thanks!
    – Allen
    Oct 24, 2022 at 8:39

You already found an answer to your own question. Get friends who are in that research area. The thing I do when I start with something I have no expertise in is set some initial research goal, and then start asking people I know questions related to what I want to do. When they don't know the answer, they can refer me to someone who does, which is something your adviser can help you with.

Sometimes I email someone I don't know and ask them questions related to their published work that are directly relevant to mine. Some are busy and don't answer, some do. Sometimes you meet people at conferences. Those are very good places to find collaborators.

Once your network of collaborators is made, your adviser's expertise is less important. In any case, even if they were an expert, your research could take you in a direction very unfamiliar to them.

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