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In general:

What is the proper manner in which to thank a supervisor for allowing you to take a really long shot? I am talking about when a professor (supervisor) who did not really know you decides to give you a chance, even though there is clearly a very low probability of success. Especially in the case where the supervisor invested significant physical resources and/or their time and you still failed to accomplish the goal (in this case research result). I am looking for a formal and appropriate way to convey my gratitude to the professor for taking the risk. Again this is in the context where you have specifically failed to reach the goal and cost the supervisor in question a good deal of resources in the process. Is it even proper to convey gratitude at this juncture for giving you an outside shot at tremendous opportunity? Or should I just be extremely apologetic?

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    So far as I know there is no secret handshake for offering thanks. "Thank you so much for all your help" works well in large range of situations. Apr 7, 2015 at 2:37

2 Answers 2

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"Thanks for the opportunity" is almost always appropriate and welcome.

As far as "apologetic" goes, I'd think on why the goal wasn't reached. Some research projects are known to be long shots before they're begun and failure, while obviously not desired, is not an unforeseen outcome. Sometimes outside events beyond anyone's control torpedo things. If this is the "flavor" of your situation, then I don't necessarily think abject apologies are called for, though you can certainly commiserate with others involved on how things turned out. Sometimes research just doesn't pan out, and good research supervisors understand that you can't hit if you don't swing.

On the other hand, when I've been part of projects that failed in whole or part due to things I did or didn't do, I've tried to make sure the supervisor involved knows that at least I learned from the experience and that I had an idea of how I would do things differently in similar circumstances should they arise. Really, this is a valuable response in either case. Especially, though, if you hope to have future research opportunities with this supervisor, I'd make sure this is understood.

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  • In this case I tried to skip 3 years of prerequisites and take a research credit grad class which is only one team project which is officially for a grade but truely for a conference paper. This level is requiring me to actually work through proofs to understand and I have never had to plan for that time before (am solid 150 hrs behind by now). I definetely agree with what you said about learning, I am learning at a greater rate than any experience before; just not fast enough to do my part. Apr 8, 2015 at 1:11
  • So, yeah, definitely in the "learning experience" category. I and most other faculty members I have known give these kinds of opportunities to undergrads that show promise, and in the knowledge that sometimes things don't work out. Don't be discouraged that you're still on the steep part of the learning curve, that's probably not unexpected by your supervisor, and if you keep demonstrating that you're willing to put in the effort you'll likely be given further opportunities to contribute.
    – agentplaid
    Apr 9, 2015 at 15:12
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Look at the upside, not the "failure" - the professor likely knew it was something of a long shot, and there's never a guaranteed success in research.

"Thank you so much for the opportunity, I appreciate your guidance and mentorship and learned a huge amount."

Or something to that effect, but in a way that sounds like you.

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