How can I get the most out of my advisor's knowledge if s/he's always travelling and out of office?

We communicate by email, but I find it uncomfortable as I am new to the field I am working in and sometimes questions/answers are not very clear.

  • 5
    Skype / Hangout? You can share the screen which is useful to show doodles live.
    – Zenon
    Commented Feb 20, 2016 at 19:52
  • @Zenon Thanks, I am aware of these technologies. I understand my question is both wide and narrow enough but I meant strategies more than technology especially that his time is limited as he is both a research and works at a company and is always attending conferences. So it is more about strategies to make the most of his time and knowledge.
    – user10853
    Commented Feb 21, 2016 at 14:46
  • 3
    Not a good answer, but: work hard to use email more effectively. One of its virtues is that it allows asynchronicity, so your advisor's hectic schedule need not be such an obstacle. But your own careful, well-thought-out questions, and follow-ups for clarification, become more important. I realize sometimes it's the very vagueness of an issue that is the problem, but/and one can/must work to capture sufficient specifics to communicate in useful language ... rather than "uh, well, I'm confused, ..." Commented Feb 21, 2016 at 15:34
  • Find other students, postdocs, or faculty who can help you. Commented Feb 21, 2016 at 17:19

2 Answers 2


Some possibilities:

  • Consistently-scheduled discussion-by-video (Skype, Google Hangout, whatever). Treat these as you would any meeting: send a good agenda in advance.
  • Collaborative workspaces, e.g. a Google doc where you and your advisor can leave comments to get issues resolved
  • A bug tracker, even if that's an idiom both you and your advisor understand
  • Someone else deputized to triage and help you over simpler problems, so that your advisor knows that whatever reaches them is important and/or troublesome

The goals here are to ensure that you get what you need as conveniently as possible for your advisor and as quickly as possible for you.


I had some success via sharing a git repository with the LaTeX source to the thesis-in-progress, with a branch in which I added commits for my suggestions to be cherry picked or not by the advisee). Students recorded daily (or so) progress reports in a wiki, which I looked over from time to time.

In a time previous to git, we interacted via email (I printed out a copy, and sent a detailed email with suggestions).

The above requires more or less independent work by the student, and is hard on discussing alternative courses of action, or techniques to apply, brainstorming, whatever. So this works best when the thesis work is nearly done.

Note that someone who is permanently on the move probably has their hands full with both the job to be done at the current location (if you the superstar invited for a week, they'll fill your agenda to the brim to make the most of the visit, and invite you to all sort of social activities "so you don't get bored" and to show off with the visiting dignitary), handling domestic issues far from home, and assorted travel-related activities. I.e., they will have precious little time available to guide advisees, and thus will probably make terrible advisors.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .