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I am a delayed graduation facing (failed some subjects before, repeating a semester right now) 5th year integrated masters' student in a STEM field.

I spoke to this professor about working a master's thesis under him a year later (fall semester of 2024, when I will officially start the thesis). He agreed. a bit about this professor:

he is a full professor in my university, one of the nicer ones in my country, but not known for research. He also has student facing administrative responsibilities, and so has interacted with me more than once from that student-facing administrative role (even met my parents on one occasion last year). Essentially, he is a busy person, though said to be kind. He is also not a very active researcher.

I took up a small project with him formally last year. But I didn't communicate with him at all so it was bad. But he didn't say much.

I am interested in his area though. I am not faking that, or intentionally misusing the fact that he knows me somewhat personally (because of his adminsistrative position) and that he is (maybe) too unproblematic to say no. I have tried to read up some papers informally right now too, I want to do good work in this thesis whenever I do it. In the last meeting we did agree on me doing some simulations informally till the thesis semester comes.

I spoke to him about doing a thesis in september this year, he said yes, and then I never contacted him again. I did maintain very intermittent contact with a graduate student of his till now, he gave me some code to implement to start with, it should have taken a few days but I have set up to meet him tomorrow, a full month after he assigned the task. I have already apologised to him for ghosting a couple of times.

The reason behind my absences is up to mental health issues and formerly family issues (the professor is aware that they exist, of course. though vaguely so). The last time I met him in September, he asked me how things were at home and I simply said "better" and that the past is past, and I shall work. That wasn't fake, things are indeed much better with family, I am just trying to improve things for myself also. I've not made as much progress as I would have liked, but its progress still. I'm trying to get better, and am still somewhat optimistic about getting my act together by the end of this semester. (just in case I cannot involve any university mental health team or special needs or similar things. that is not an option so please don't mention it. I'm all on my own here, and that is ok)

On a slight change of plan I wanted to ask him about shifting the thesis to the next semester if it works for him. But more than any other thought I first want to get back to him, apologise for the lack of communication and progress, mention the little progress that I have done and reiterate my interest in working and this behaviour will not be there by the time we begin work officially (I asked him a year in advance specifically so that I get time to recover mentally on my own. I want to go into academia, and work with this prof. may be the only research experience I get by the time I graduate but I think it is the best I can ask for now. I didn't tell him this though, all he knows is that I am interested in the field and would want to work in academia. I know my career prospects are next to nil in academia at the moment but I am willing to put in the effort to try to get more research experience and go do work first and foremost)..

How do I approach writing to him about it ? I'm scared of going personally to his office again to report no progress and another apology after the many that I have given him for ghosting. I promise to myself that I will communicate quicker and more openly this point onward. I genuinely do not want to repeat this. I realise most of my mistakes now, even though it is very very late.

But how do I send this first message to him now ? Do I go directly in his office or write an email, do I ask the graduate student of his whom I am meeting tomorrow to relay the message on my behalf ? What do I do, please help me decide.

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    Have you actually "ghosted" him as in not responding to requests (which happens once in a while with most people as they may miss emails), or have you only not updated him? I am a professor, I always have enough to do, and I don't set student projects in such a way that I'm dependent on the student doing work. So I actually don't mind if I don't hear from a student for some time, and it isn't a problem for me. From my point of view no apology is needed as no harm is done, so just communicating normally may be the way forward. Nov 7, 2023 at 19:13
  • He didn't ask for any updates. Never does, it seems (not that I will misuse it. this is my thesis after all, I want to make it count). but the tasks that I was given by his grad student at the moment were very elementary replication tasks, I take it to get me up to speed with what they are doing right now. nothing in terms of actual contribution yet. more like assignments
    – Prakash
    Nov 7, 2023 at 19:14
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    Chances are that this doesn't cause any problem for the professor. So you don't need to worry about contacting him now. (Of course the professor may have the impression that you are rather slow and haven't done what you were meant to do, but this is not a problem for the professor, only for you, if at all, and chances are apologies and special ways of communicating won't help with that, only doing the work well will.) Nov 7, 2023 at 19:21
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    Please shorten your post Nov 12, 2023 at 17:26

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I think the only way forward is to do it in person. If they are as understanding and aware as you say then it should be fine. Email is a poor way to handle such things, though a short mail requesting a meeting might be needed if that is usual.

But I also hope you are dealing effectively with any other (health...) issues you might have by working with an appropriate professional. Those issues may be the root of the problem. One potential issue is extreme introversion, which can hold you back, but which can also be dealt with effectively - with practice.

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