I am a comajor masters student who is experiencing difficulties in timely responses from my advisor. It has taken an average of almost 4 months for me to get feedback each time I have received feedback on my thesis since leaving campus.

As a result, I am trying to convert from a thesis to a non-thesis based MS, take an additional course this fall, and be done. I would need to modify my program of study to include some independent study credits (requiring my advisor approval), representing my non-published thesis work, and be done this fall. The additional work is well worth it to me to avoid the uncertainty of depending on an advisor who is unreliable for timely feedback.

Because of these delays which are likely going to make even a fall thesis defense impossible, I have been in contact with the Ombuds office at my University. At their suggestion I then talked with the faculty who is the director of my graduate program and both seem to think this is the best outcome. The graduate director thought my advisor might resist this idea because it causes him to lose face.

I need my advisor's permission to convert to the independent study.If I do not receive this, I will have to take some additional credits - which I am prepared to do, though this is non-optimal. Technically I need his permission to switch committees, too, though I have been told him refusing this is incredibly unlikely. Having suggested the idea to my advisor via email about a week ago, I have (unsurprisingly to me) not heard any response.

  • What strategies should I use to work with my advisor to change my program of study and committee which help him save face, but simultaneously causing my issues to be resolved in a way which results in him signing the paperwork?

The only reason I care is I want him to approve my program of study change, so I have to take less credits. If I didn't need this approval I would just drop the paperwork off to change my committee and be done (and easily escalate if he refuses)...

  • 1
    How about presenting it in the context of lightening their workload? "I noticed you have been taking a long time to respond to my questions. Since you are obviously busy, I wish to pursue [this other option]. Would you mind signing this paperwork to approve it?"
    – Jim Conant
    Aug 14, 2015 at 20:48
  • Put down the email and go talk to him face-to-face. He can't keep you waiting for a week if you just ask. Aug 14, 2015 at 21:41
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    Wow, what a terrible supervisor^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^Hperson :( Still, after all of this, and given the urgency of your situation, I imagine you could press the point - be insistent. He's not going to physically remove you from his office :P Don't leave until you've set an appointment time for a face-to-face chat. Aug 14, 2015 at 21:44

4 Answers 4


Why are you worried about helping save face for this person? It sounds like they have been nothing but problematic.

If the department is OK with you switching to a non-degree program and graduating, just do it and get out of there. Based on what you have reported, there seems to be no benefit for you doing otherwise: you're just making a lot of excuses for what is very poor behavior. For example, it doesn't matter if supervising your thesis is "low priority" and your advisor is "very busy"---supervising your thesis is part of your advisor's job.

Given that you are have already engaged both the program director and the Ombuds office and gotten their encouragement to proceed on this path, just go ahead and finish your degree without the thesis. The only disadvantage you are likely to have is that you're not going to be able to get a good recommendation letter from your former advisor---but then, would you have been able to anyway?

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    Too much kindness can hurt too. Sometimes you have to let people get what they had coming. Aug 14, 2015 at 18:12
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    I think the question is about how to convince the advisor to sign the relevant paperwork.
    – Jim Conant
    Aug 14, 2015 at 20:46
  • 2
    @JimConant With support already obtained from higher-up administration, it is almost certain that somehow an appropriate person will be able to sign the appropriate piece of paper. The advisor might lose face, but will probably lose a lot more face if they try to fight the administration.
    – jakebeal
    Aug 14, 2015 at 20:53
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    This was my first thought on reading the question's first few paragraphs, but continuing reading it became clear that the issue here is helping make the situation as attractive as possible to the supervisor, so that they are inclined to agree to the plan. Aug 14, 2015 at 21:42
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    This seems to have worked - unless something goes horribly wrong in the next few weeks I will finally be done (without extra work other than the single additional class, either, though it took a "I'll have to get you what I need changed on your thesis document to approve the change to your program of study" to a month later, "actually looks ok" drama...).
    – enderland
    Dec 16, 2015 at 15:15

This is a pretty difficult situation. Are you able to switch programs to ind. study without approval if you can show that the adviser was negligent? If not, I still don't see what the adviser will gain from refusing to allow you to switch unless he hopes that the extra credits will deter you from that path.

If you think that he will resist in order to save face, you could be clear that you plan to switch to the independent study program regardless of his response, which will make him choose between a) refusing you out of spite, or b) giving you a better choice which still costs him nothing as compared to choice a. I would like to think that the adviser would not be childish enough to stop you out of pure spite when he loses nothing by giving you the better option.

  • Are you able to switch programs to ind. study without approval if you can show that the adviser was negligent? <-- I don't think so, this apparently requires some trickery in changing previous credits I have (which is possible per the program coordinator). But those credits are in my advisor's name so it requires his approval to convert...
    – enderland
    Aug 14, 2015 at 14:53
  • However I can still change my program to a non-thesis program, I just will have to take more credits. I was told this would be incredibly dumb for my advisor to attempt to prevent. This is my "worst case" scenario route however as I will have to take more credits.
    – enderland
    Aug 14, 2015 at 14:58

This line concerns me the most

It has taken an average of almost 4 months for me to get feedback

You should likely talk to the Dean or Provost of your department. Be ready to show that you're being proactive, but your current advisor's lack of attention has shut you down. Go on ahead and start figuring out how to switch programs of study without your advisor's approval.

You will likely ruin whatever relationship you have left with your current advisor, but it sounds like you've done what you can to keep communication open, and your advisor hasn't reciprocated. After 4 months of in-attention, its time to figure out how to go around, not through.


I need my advisor's permission to convert to the independent study.

You sent the request once and waited a week. Since this is August, you should either wait a second week before proceeding with the next step, or try to find out from someone if your advisor is out of town.

The second step is to Reply to your email from a week ago, to your advisor, with a cc to the graduate director, saying

I look forward to receiving your reply.

If there is still no response within a reasonable amount of time, then put the problem in the graduate director's lap.

If the graduate director does not feel sufficiently authorized to take action (such as signing in your advisor's place) then go to the head of the department, or higher still, if need be. That would probably be a dean. Watch out -- there are often large numbers of "assistant deans" who are sometimes ineffective. I would hesitate to work with one of those. On the other hand, it can be effective to work with the dean's secretary. Deans' secretaries are usually as smart as a button, and efficient. A good secretary will sometimes listen to your tale of woe, and then call you back a little while later to tell you the problem has been taken care of -- without you having to do anything.

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