TLDR: how important is having a hands-on supervisor for my masters thesis?

I recently started a one-year MA in sociology at a large uni in Europe (after having attended a SLAC for undergrad).

My options for masters thesis supervisors are a more senior professor whose research interests me very much, but who told me up front that she is very busy and would only be able to meet every 3-4 weeks in a group meeting with other students. Alternatively, I could go with a more junior Professor whose research is still interesting to me (though not quite as exciting) but who would have more time to dedicate to helping me out.

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    Did you check with the "more senior" professor whether you would have an additional "daily" supervisor, often a PhD student from the group?
    – Mark
    Commented Oct 8, 2023 at 11:32
  • Your masters project is an opportunity to show what you can do. If your supervisor is too "hand-on", they are denying you the opportunity to show your true ability, particularly in project management and self-direction. You also need to develop your ability to solve problems for yourself, which is made more difficult by a helpful supervisor. Commented Apr 9 at 11:26

3 Answers 3


This is a situation where it isn't a case of "one size fits all". Some people do better with more supervision, others with more self determination. Since you are asking, it might be the case that you fall more into the first category than the second.

Few people, I think, get to make a decision on those terms and choose a supervisor for other reasons, taking what they get. Most, not all, can come out ok in either case, but there are several posts on this site where such things become critical to the student's success.

Look at your own history. Are you mostly self directed or do you find closer guidance more critical to your success.

Note also, that your future depends more on what you accomplish than on the "big names" of the people in your background. In the short term, a well known advisor can be an advantage (in getting letters, for example), but it is you that needs to produce something.

If you don't find either of the two research areas so compelling that you can't choose anything else, then make your decision on other criteria than senior-junior faculty status, I think.

And, as user Mark suggests in a comment explore the entire spectrum of advice that is open to you. A single criteria decision may not be in your best interest.


To answer the question, not at all. My supervisor had pretty much no input whatsoever and I just sent him my thesis to approve it. I would pick the one that fits you more. However, clearly supervision is country dependent (probably also uni dependent in some countries), since I have never heard of anyone picking their Master's thesis supervisor based on the supervisor's reasearch.


The level of hands-on involvement from a Master's thesis supervisor can vary widely based on the advisor's style, the nature of the research project, and the expectations of the academic program. Here are some considerations regarding the importance of hands-on involvement:

Varied Approaches:

Different supervisors have different working styles. Some may prefer a hands-on approach, providing extensive guidance and involvement throughout the research process. Others may take a more hands-off approach, giving students more independence. Learning Experience:

A hands-on supervisor can be beneficial, especially for students who are new to research or who appreciate more guidance. Direct involvement can provide a valuable learning experience, helping students develop research skills and gain a deeper understanding of the subject matter. Independence and Autonomy:

On the other hand, some students thrive with a more independent approach. A supervisor who encourages autonomy may allow students to take the lead in designing and conducting their research, fostering a sense of ownership over the project. Communication:

Regardless of the level of hands-on involvement, effective communication between the student and the supervisor is crucial. Regular meetings, clear expectations, and constructive feedback are essential components of a successful advisor-student relationship. Research Productivity:

A hands-on supervisor may contribute more directly to the research productivity of the student, potentially leading to more collaborative publications or presentations. However, a hands-off approach does not necessarily hinder productivity, as some students may excel with more independence. Preparation for Ph.D. or Future Research:

The level of hands-on involvement may also influence how well-prepared a student feels for future research endeavors, such as pursuing a Ph.D. If a student desires a career in research, having a supervisor who is actively involved in the process may be particularly valuable. Personal Preferences:

Different students have different preferences when it comes to supervision. Some may thrive in a more structured and hands-on environment, while others may prefer more autonomy. It's essential to communicate your expectations and preferences with your supervisor. In summary, the importance of hands-on involvement from a Master's thesis supervisor is subjective and depends on individual learning styles, research goals, and preferences. Open communication with your supervisor and a clear understanding of expectations can help ensure a positive and productive advisor-student relationship.

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