I am working on a short-term project where I have an unpleasant feeling with my two supervisors in general, but I am not sure whether I am being unprofessional or too sensitive for people's feedback. I'd appreciate if people can give me some advice for how to handle such situations.

  1. I was not pointed to read the "right" papers at the beginning of the project. This was totally fine for me. I did my own literature review and cold emailed a few experts in the field to seek for advice/opinions, and I got very insightful remarks from them. I informed one of my supervisor that I would read XXX's paper this weekend (just to keep him in the loop), and he said he remembered XXX's work is just an imitation of his work, except XXX did something wrong in between. I read both of their papers, and I found absolutely no similarities. These two papers are completely different works, and XXX is one of the experts who gave me good advice and pointed me a classical paper that I should have read in the very beginning. I am personally very thankful for XXX's advice, but I got a feeling that my supervisor did not like him for reasons I don't know and don't care. For example, when I mentioned some argument mentioned in XXX's paper seemed to come out of nowhere to me, he would nod along with my questioning (even though he did not read XXX's paper), but when I mentioned XXX gave a potential solution and I wanted to see how to apply that solution in my case specifically, he said he was not sure it is relevant for my project (and he did not give me very concrete arguments).

  2. They did not reply to most of my messages, mostly technical questions and remarks. The only kind of messages that is guaranteed to get response from them is an administrative question. I have no idea how to interpret this reaction. One of my supervisors still did show up in our weekly meetings, although showing that he did not read my messages at all. Another supervisor showed up whenever he felt like it, because it is not so close to his work. Towards the end, I think the information gap is so big that they started to give me advice that I thought I have cleared out in my previous messages. I may be being impatient due to stress of the project. On the one hand, I don't want to constantly repeat what I have said because I want to focus more on my project. On the other hand, I value communication and want to keep them in the loop. Unfortunately, I think it is quite difficult to bridge the gap through my own efforts now, because a lot of the papers I have read are although in their area but not exactly the ones they are familiar with. I don't expect them to read all the papers carefully for me. But how do people communicate with their supervisors if the supervisors are not "in the loop" anymore? I am also concerned this is one of the reasons they show total disinterest in my research. I tried my best to stay motivated, but I feel like I am completely working on my own in the later part of the project. I am constantly worrying whether it is all because of my poor communication skills. I am also concerned that they just don't like me for reasons I don't know (I am not very sensitive socially), but I feel they should initiate a conversation from their side if they think some of my actions are inappropriate to them.

My general impression is that every time I tried to clarify some technical details I don't understand from reading others' papers, they would find a way to stop the conversation (too busy, gotta get out of the meeting, etc.). When I tried to align my project with one of their previous works, they would show genuine interests and want to discuss about the details. I guess that's fair. People care more about their own works. But how can I get people interested in relevant works that I discovered and that they did not know yet? Is it an impossible goal for a short-term project?

NOTE: Although I am rather socially insensitive, I never explicitly or implicitly said anything like "I found XXX's work is better than yours". But I did say something like "I found XXX's paper very insightful and YYY's paper can be included in the discussion", and I never mentioned and endorsed my supervisor's work in any way, because I don't find it very relevant to solve the question at my hand. Would such statements annoy people? Should I at least pretend to endorse their works even if I don't genuinely think so?

  • What is your question? It kinda reads as "I work with some people that does not follow reasonable academic practice, and I know it". But it snot very clear what you want to do about it, if anything. May 26 at 10:07
  • @AnderBiguri I actually don't know whether it is reasonable or not. I just tried my best to justify for their behaviors that did not meet my expectation. I am a master student and both of my supervisors are professors. It may not be that common because most master students' projects are directly supervised by PhDs and Postdocs. That's why I sometimes doubt whether my supervisors are too busy or the questions I asked are way too stupid for my supervisors that they did not bother to answer. May 26 at 13:17
  • The answer is we can't know. Either they have a very long answer that they don't want to elaborate on about the other papers not being good enough, or they are non-reasonable as researchers because they only care about their work. Or they want you to focus on their work rather than trying to replicate other groups work and don't want to send you off course. Or they don't understand the work well enough to answer your questions. Or something else? We can't answer. May 26 at 13:23
  • The fact that they show most interest in their work rather than others people work, a priori, only makes them the average human being. Put yourself in that situation. Someone asks about something you put plenty of time and effort on, for years. Now they ask about some work that e.g. I did. Which one are you more likely to engage with, while answering. May 26 at 13:23
  • But other people's work is the work that can solve my question at hand, and it's also some work in their field. I just don't understand why my questions ended up unanswered most of the time, because I expect some feedback instead of talking to the wall all the time. May 26 at 13:26


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