I am MSc student, data-science, and a senior student - I mean, I invested on a degree in later age of my life with desire to get into research roles.

I was assigned a supervisor for my MSc Thesis who is not engaged. He clearly said cannot help, for my research topic is not in his own domain. The systematic review prepared in other course was very good (A-score) but only feedback I got from him is trim it down, and comply with length and structure of the template of the university.

I told him I'm interested in getting the most of this work for research desire, shift in career maybe towards a PhD maybe - the answer was something weird - why do you want to? I did research because my mother wanted, but I would have like to do XYZ -.

I was requested to write which resarch strategy and methods; I struggle to choose between two ways, one would be an experiment but I d need to acquire skills - willing to, but I don't know I will be able to get in time (~2 months)- the other would be a more explorative work, a case study but maybe more difficult to communicate and argue about relevance of final result.

I prepared diagrams and bullet points describing steps for both two options, and pros and cons for each as well; send emails to him asking for help, but only got reply: I am not gonna read a 10000 words document. Trim it down first. Write first 1 page about what you wanna do. I suspect slide presentation and systematic review were not read either, because I explained what I wanted to do.

I actually asked to read the bullet point lists and diagrams (1 page) - I would have trim down the rest of the parts accordingly to research strategy - but request was ignored.

I m gutted, don't know how to extract the best from this.

On a personal level, I feel that the more questions and feedback I ask, the more the work for him to bother.

How to handle this situation, and avoid it reverberate badly on my thesis and graduation?

Note the degree is on distance learning, so meeting via zoom call only, I cannot go on knocking the door.

  • I assume that the advisor didn't give you the question and that it came from elsewhere. Yes? Did he inform you then that he couldn't help much?
    – Buffy
    Commented Mar 15, 2023 at 22:10
  • 1
    Don’t ask him to read. Ask for a 20 min meeting and use it to decide between 2 options.
    – Dawn
    Commented Mar 16, 2023 at 2:25
  • hey @Buffy. He informed he couldn't help but frankly his argument does not hold. He's an expert in NLP, and I was considering to use transformer models but applied on audio. His answer is that is data scientists, not bioacoustician. Tried to ask at least some info about attention-layer, his answer was briefly he applies model, cannot help. holy molly chatgpt is more useful, it should not be that way. His only concern is to just move on and do this piece of paper called thesis, and I instead would like to do something I do care about, also for my future. I know time is running up for me.
    – user305883
    Commented Mar 16, 2023 at 20:49

1 Answer 1


Comply With His Initial Requests

Some people will respond favorably to walls of text in e-mail, or long documents through e-mail. I'm one of them. I generate them, too. It is my preferred mode of communication-- it gives me something to chew over, think about, and formulate a response.

I receive constant reminders that not everyone operates this way.

You are receiving those reminders right now, from your advisor.

So comply with your advisor's initial requests. Trim your communications way, way down. First, because it's the only way you will get anywhere with this person. Second, because being brief is a skill you must carefully hone if you don't already have it. The five minute elevator pitch, the four page conference paper, the sparse slide deck, these are all things you need to know how to do. You don't have to love it. But you have to do it.

That said, even though there is an authority differential in your advisor-advisee relationship, this should not be entirely one-sided. Once you comply with his requests, you are entitled to a reasonable amount of communication and information from your advisor. It might not come in written form, but you should get it somehow-- office meetings, teleconferences, something-- and it should be useful.

Consider A New Advisor

I have been where you are, with respect to what I'll charitably refer to as an unengaged advisor. I know the anxiety that comes with it, as the future turns into the past, time gets wasted, frustrations mount, and you wonder if you're the problem or he's the problem, and how to solve the problem in either case.

Find someone on the faculty you can talk to confidentially. It might be the department chair, another faculty member you have a good relationship with, or there might be someone on faculty like an ombudsman whose responsibility it is to handle these issues. Find that person, talk to that person, ask their advice. Ask them what the appropriate and expected level of communications between advisor and advisee is for your department.

Tell them especially about the lack of connection between your desired topic and your advisor's lack of experience. Find out if it is reasonable to draw another advisor for either or both reasons.

  • well thanks. at least for the empathy. I'd ask to someone else but I am on distance learning. I did like a professor very much and was thinking to try to ask him, but how to explain - hey, I am feeling not ok wiht your colleague- and even more constructively - hey, I thought about this and that for my thesis - he won't have time. about trimming down, I feel like trashing everything I've done, but even worse is that I m not getting anywhere, because my main question about which research strategy to go for, remains unanswered.
    – user305883
    Commented Mar 16, 2023 at 20:45
  • @user305883 I did miss the part about the distance learning. It may help others form answers if you give a little detail about what kind of distance learning. I'm not asking for anything that might identify you, but there are a wide range of programs out there, with varying levels of interaction between advisor and advisee. I see your dilemma, though. But I still believe there will be someone in that department who can help you with this. Probably a good place to start would be figuring what process exists to change advisors in general- that should get you in the right ballpark.
    – Anonymous
    Commented Mar 17, 2023 at 2:26
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    Distance learning, means program is designed to be fully remote. Swedish university. changing supervisor, I am afraid it would move the thesis to the next year. Cumbersome for me is that I'd ilke to do A-quality thesis and eventually take necessary time, but instead it seems that concluding in time is preferred. I'll check if there is student counsil.
    – user305883
    Commented Mar 18, 2023 at 22:05

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