I wrote a master thesis which went quite bad, due to communication problems with advisor, and my advisor said he is not willing to continue guiding me for PhD studies.

Specifically, I was asked to prove that the elementary theory of finite field is decidable, and I had no background on model theory. I had difficulty understanding, for example, the proofs of Riemann hypothesis for curves and Chebotarev's theorem. As such, I made mistakes when I wrote the thesis. It felt like the subject is too large for one thesis so I was unable to fill some details in some proofs. When I asked for guidance for some of the proofs, he did provide assistance, but only after six months time.

However, I have studied math on my own and I know that I am able to understand math by working on my own. Is there any hope for my math career if my thesis advisor said so? I have done couple of small new proofs for some old results, but they are so small that I guess I won't get a publication to any journal.

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    I just can't understand how a thesis can go bad without the thesis advisor being seriously responsible for that. I mean, it could be that both you and he didn't pay attention to this or that and the thesis stinks, but it is highly unlikely as most thesis advisors talk among themselves and with other people about the thesis development...The worse I ever met was to try to achieve something that, at the end, either proved to be imposible to achieve (and still then a thesis can be worth a lot), or else something that has already being worked out by someone else somewhere else...
    – DonAntonio
    Jun 5, 2014 at 16:41
  • +1 for the added clarity. Thanks! Hopefully the specifics are such that your advisor (or advisor's colleagues, your friends, etc.) won't recongize the situation if they stumble on this question, but I would bet otherwise. However, perhaps the size of the internet and people's finite amount of time will save you from this.
    – Dave L. Renfro
    Jun 5, 2014 at 17:06
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    "Is there any hope my math career if my thesis advisor said so?" Said what?
    – eykanal
    Jun 6, 2014 at 14:12
  • Any chance of applying extension and switch supervisor? It is pretty common to be able to ask your school to change supervisor if you find them unhelpful. I am surprised you had difficulty in one particular research area but you didn't raise the question earlier and maybe change topic. The first year of my PhD I was investigating something that ended up nowhere, and I switched topic after discussing with my supervisor and now I have my PhD finished on time and had very good results. Jun 6, 2014 at 14:19
  • This is a PhD thesis? The advisor is there to be your advisor. If it went wrong, then they are also responsible. Followup with the advisor, and if that doesn't go well, then go to the Chair, then Dean. Be professional, and get some help on how to approach it.
    – MikeP
    Aug 22, 2016 at 23:52

1 Answer 1


It's very hard to switch to a different advisor or even a comparable school when your thesis goes bad. This is because the first question a potential advisor would ask is what happened with your old advisor ... if both you and the advisor don't have a reasonable answer to that, you will have a very hard time.

That said, there are alternatives:

  • You could try working for a year or two and then returning to PhD studies.
  • You could try switching to a different area. There are lots of areas where a student with good mathematics abilities could find interesting problems (economics, computer science, physics, ...)
  • Switch to a less respectable school that might be willing to take a gamble on an unknown student with a good background.

In short, one of the most important decisions a student can make in his/her graduate career is an advisor.

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