I am a PhD Student & started my research few months ago. My research involves creating a predictive model for protein-drug interaction using soft computing techniques .The topic was given to me by my supervisor and was not my choice.

The problem is, I am a computer science student and have no idea about drugs or proteins or their interaction. My knowledge about the topic is completely zero. While I have read literature, I find the concept very difficult to understand. I find it difficult to search for technical papers of my interest. I would also like to mention that I have absolutely NO help from my supervisor, who also has no idea about the topic, despite being the one who told me to work on the topic.

Now I need to start with my coursework and it includes topics like drug-protein interaction and soft computing techniques. And, I have seriously no clue to how to go about my coursework. I don't know what topics should be included in the course work. My supervisor has just left me with the names of the coursework that's it. I do not know from where to start, exactly what to start and how to start. The days are just passing by and I have time constraints to present the same at the institute level. I am just going crazy thinking about it day by day and don't know where will I land up at the end. I don't want to leave PhD to whatever happens. My sincere request to you is to suggest something and help me out with it or anybody please suggest to me how to proceed.

  • 1
    Could you clarify what, exactly, you are asking for? If it is references; books, papers, the like, then Academia.SE is not the right place, try the Stack Exchange for Computational Science, Biology, Physics or something along those lines, instead. If you want tips on how to tell your adviser that you want to change topics then the current forum is the right place for the question. If you want information about stuff specific to your institution (courses, their start dates etc.), there is little an internet community can do. Ask someone responsible for course planning at your institute.
    – alarge
    Commented Jun 2, 2014 at 10:40
  • In terms of help ,I mean to say like books or good journal papers or suggest anybody who is currently in to research with respect to my topic so at least I can approach them. Commented Jun 2, 2014 at 11:11
  • 1
    Have you asked your supervisor why he gave you that topic? Is there anybody in your school (not necessarily the CS department) know protein-drug interaction? Do you have biology department in your school?
    – Nobody
    Commented Jun 2, 2014 at 13:06
  • This is why you have an advisor.
    – JeffE
    Commented Jul 4, 2016 at 0:21

3 Answers 3


I'm going to be a bit more harsh than the current answers, and ask whether you knew what you were getting yourself into when you signed up for a multidisciplinary graduate program. What you describe is very common in such programs; you enter with significant knowledge in one field (e.g., comp sci), almost no knowledge in another (e.g., biology), and your task is to familiarize yourself with both to the extent that you can perform academic-level research that straddles both fields. Anecdotally, I went through a biomedical engineering PhD program, and every single student who went through the program experienced some degree of what you are describing. Without knowing specifics, your advisor is likely not responding because they take it for granted that you will learn to cope the same way that all his other students do.

The solution is simply to start at the beginning and take it from there. Clearly, you won't find help from your advisor, but there are many other resources. Find other students in a similar situation and create a study group. Talk to the TA. Use online materials and forums. If the course is simply too advanced, drop it for now and take (audit?) a lower-level (undergraduate?) course first. I know many students who did this. They ended up fine.

You will likely encounter a similar situation many times, where you need to familiarize yourself with a brand-new field, and this is a fine time to figure out how to do it.


It is completely normal to be floundering early on in your research, and to feel panicked. You wouldn't have chosen this topic, but ask yourself this: If I woke up tomorrow knowing what I needed to know to do this research, would the topic interest me? If not, perhaps you should change topics. For what it's worth, I think it sounds like a very interesting topic. You don't need to become a biochemist; you only need to learn enough to write a simulation of some aspect of the problem.

When I need to learn the basics of a completely unfamiliar topic, I don't start with journal articles. I search the web for educational materials, something targeted toward undergraduates. At this point I'm trying to learn the basic terminology and concepts. I also look for online discussion forums where I might ask questions. I then read Wikipedia (which will have links to useful journal articles) and Scholarpedia. Once I start to understand some basic concepts, then I try to read journal articles. I'll probably discover more gaps in my knowledge; I go back to the web for basic info in those areas.

Your supervisor isn't helping you. That's something to be concerned about. Could it be that he or she is leaving you alone temporarily to see what you can accomplish on your own, pushing you to become more self-reliant? Or do you think your supervisor tends to ignore her PhD students? Talk to her other students, especially those who are a little further along in their research, to get an idea of her style. If you don't think you are compatible, a change of advisors is probably best.


I think it is reasonable that your coursework follows your research. As I see it, the issue is that you are not interested in your present topic, to that I would suggest to talk to your advisor, especially if he seems so uninterested as you claim. In the extreme case you could try and switch advisors.

I find it hard to believe that you are "forced" to research a specific topic, i.e. there are very few situations I can think of that possibility (e.g. a industry pays your PhD to research something of their interest).

As a personal opinion, and off-topic to this site, I find that protein modeling is a very broad and useful topic in CS with a great future. So, if you could manage to beat the learning curve, I imagine that your career would benefit.

  • Why did you apply for a scholarship if you didn't want this? Surely that's your choice. Commented Jun 2, 2014 at 15:19

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