I attend a competitive mathematics department that is very active in research. The downside of this is that it is hard to get any professor to agree to work on a Master's thesis with.

I have tried asking about 5 professors - all say the same thing, "thank you for your interest in wanting to work with me. I'm afraid I have to say no, because I am very busy."

To be honest, though, I did ask the top researchers in our dept. Partly because I should take that risk for my own career benefits, and partly because I just do not know much about the younger, less established professors / post-docs, people whom I am guessing I would have a better chance to work with.

What are some general recommendations from this community? Keep trying to work with a tenured, well-known professor, or better to hedge my bets and just find someone who will say "yes, you can work on a project with me."?

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    It sounds like your department doesn't have enough supervisory capacity for all the masters students. It's not an uncommon problem, I'm afraid. – ff524 Dec 3 '15 at 6:35
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    Does your department offer a non-thesis option in the master's program? Is the expectation that most MS students will not complete a thesis? – Brian Borchers Dec 3 '15 at 8:16
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    What subfields are you dealing with? In some areas, the argument can be made that an MS student simply wouldn't have enough knowledge to contribute meaningfully to the state-of-the-art. In other areas (e.g., combinatorics, numerical methods) the research frontier is more accessible with fewer years of graduate courses. – David Ketcheson Dec 3 '15 at 8:58
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    What have you done to establish your own credentials in a way that would encourage top faculty to work with you? – Oswald Veblen Dec 3 '15 at 13:46

In your situation, one might advise that you better forget about the elite faculty members, now, and the mere struggle to work with them. There are two potential options in my mind.

Firstly, expand your professor set to young fellows and try to grab their attention. You will be able to flourish by the indirect guidance of the elite professors, as your co-advisor; but right now, delay within pursuing the thesis might be considerably harmful for you.

Second idea would be taken into account, if even young and inexperienced fellows at the department, corresponding to your desired research field, show no tendency for your supervision. In this case, you may have to switch from your current research interest, in an either partially or fully matter, to be capable of cooperating with the people, who are looking for any graduate student.

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