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This semester I need to take a course that is offered in two sections, one of which will be taught by my M.Sc. thesis advisor.

The problem is that I personally prefer to take the course with the other professor instead of my advisor because:

  • The teaching quality of my advisor is not as good as the other professor.
  • If I take the course with my current advisor, the TAs would be my labmates, and it makes me a little nervous that my grades and activities be exposed to them (and also to the professor).

I want to know generally: is it OK to not take a course with your advisor, especially if that course is the main focus of your lab and your work.

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    Are your adviser's class and the class that you want to take taught at the same time? If not, can you arrange to have a schedule conflict with your adviser's class? – Andreas Blass Aug 20 '15 at 16:02
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    Talk to your advisor! What I would do is tell my advisor I want to take this other course and some rationale as to why and get his/her feedback. Most professors I have met wouldn't mind at all and would probably encourage me to do so if the other class is beneficial. – Austin Henley Aug 20 '15 at 16:04
  • @AndreasBlass no,they are not on the same time. – CoderInNetwork Aug 20 '15 at 16:06
  • Andreas's solution is the face-saving one. – aparente001 Aug 20 '15 at 17:30
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You may learn more going with the other professor. By working with your supervisor, you are learning his style and focus in great detail. The other professor will likely take a different approach, that can enrich your views on the topic.

I disagree with RoboKaren about the letter. He knows you best from working with him, and taking a course would actually add very little to his knowledge of your performance that cannot be seen by looking at your transcript. His letter would be mostly based on what you have done with him, and he hopefully wants to write that you are a brilliant and resourceful researcher.

Now, how is your supervisor going to take it? Impossible to know without talking to him! When I was considering taking a course partially taught by my former MSc supervisor, he told me that I already knew almost everything he was going to say, and would consider waving his part of the course for a report. But professors are human beings, and come in all varieties.

Lastly, I think that your "grades and activities being exposed [to your labmates]" is not a good reason to not take a course; but avoiding conflict of interest is a better one.

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Expanding my comments from earlier...

Most importantly, talk to your advisor. Either you should be able to convince him/her that the other course will benefit you more or he/she should be able to convince you that his/her course will benefit you more.

I disagree with RoboKaren's answer. Working with your advisor is far more important than taking a class with him/her for a letter of rec. You may have other opportunities to take a course with him/her anyway.

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    I'm not sure I'd even bring the matter up. Just sign up for the preferred class. However, in the event that the advisor asks the question ("How come you're not in my section?"), have a good answer handy. Don't say, "Because I've heard the other professsor teaches better than you." Ouch! Try, "I figured that I'd be working with you a lot over the next few years, and this is one of the few chances I'll get to hear Prof. X." (That may not be the primary reason, but it's not a lie, either.) Marketing is everything; it's all in how we couch it. "Do I look fat in this dress?" – J.R. Aug 21 '15 at 9:48
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While it may be permitted, it's not advisable to graduate without ever having taken a class with your advisor. Remember that one of the things that you will want to do is ask your advisor for a letter of recommendation (either for a job or for graduate school). So if you have never taken a class with your advisor, do so.

The reason is that when writing the letter, they will want to say that they had you in class and that you were brilliant. If they've never had you in class, it's hard for them to make that type of evaluative statement. A much shorter and weaker letter may result.

The most important thing, though, is to talk to your advisor. I have actively advised my students to take a class that isn't mine (and that meets at the same time as mine) because it is better for their scholarly development. At the same time, I had supervised their work closely and felt that I knew them fairly well.

Note: While this is not part of the question, if you are somehow giving the impression that you think lowly of the professor and of your lab mates, then you may have bigger problems than a course or two.

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    I disagree. Working with your advisor is far more important than taking a class with him/her for a letter of rec. Also, the OP didn't say he has taken/will take 0 classes with his advisor. – Austin Henley Aug 20 '15 at 16:10
  • I agree, it's unclear as to whether the OP had taken 0 classes previously. I've adjusted my answer. – RoboKaren Aug 20 '15 at 16:11
  • @Austin - if you would have posted that as an answer instead of a comment, you'd be 110 points richer :) – eykanal Aug 20 '15 at 21:29
  • @eykanal And I would have another prestiguos badge! I will post an expanded answer now... – Austin Henley Aug 20 '15 at 21:55
  • I'd give a letter of recommendation to somebody who never took a class with me if they worked with me instead. No requirement, but then I obviously can't comment on the person as a student. – vonbrand Aug 21 '15 at 0:03

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