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I have started a master thesis in applied mathematics with the aim of studying a paper of my supervisor. This paper uses some "basic" results of a theory (semi algebraic geometry i.e. SAG) that is new for me. While I have no doubt that this theory is interesting, I have two problems:

  1. My background is in analysis (functional and convex analysis, optimization) and probability, not this subject. I found it strange to not capitalize on my prior knowledge.

  2. I know that SAG has been used by my supervisor as a tool for studying subject A (the main subject of interest of my supervisor) and I have, since I am studying through this paper, a little interest for subject A and not much interest for SAG.

Subject A is encompassed in a subject B and I have explicitly said to my supervisor that I am mostly interested in the mathematics generated by subject B and I was willing to discover new area of mathematics. I did not mentioned related to the math studied in my master because it was a kind of "obvious" for me.

I try to see this master thesis as a "job" that I must do well but I cannot stop to think that it would be better to go on a subject in line with my background in order to be able to use all my knowledge and maybe do better, especially given the fact that I would like, if possible, to pursue a PhD.

Is this situation normal?

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  • Would you clarify a few of the differences between B and A? Apr 3 at 3:19

3 Answers 3

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The universal answer of this forum also applies to this question: Talk to your adviser. They may have a good reason for wanting you to study the paper, or perhaps they assigned it to you for lack of knowledge what it is you really are interested in (perhaps because you did not voice your opinion at the time). Questions of direction are common in adviser-student relationships; they can be resolved but only if both sides talk to each other; the fact that you ask us instead of your adviser suggests that you don't talk to them enough -- that's the problem you need to fix.

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You have not told us how it was decided that reading this paper would be the start of your master's project.

If your situation permits, have a conversation with your supervisor about what you want from this work and what work they are comfortable directing. You can let them know (politely) why this particular paper does not seem to suit you.

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In addition to the as stated "talk to your advisor". I will suggest you let go of "your background" for now. I too often see undergraduates coming in to a PhD or MSc fixated on the idea that they are already entrenched in a topic just because they had some level of exposure during their undergraduate. You are still a student and still learning. Don't think of a masters as a necessary continuation or a position that must leverage your undergraduate, but rather as an opportunity to expand your skill sets and overall research scope. When you finish your masters, your background will become more diverse, rather than more hyperfocused.

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