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This question is related to this one and this one. My Masters' thesis supervisor is incredibly superficial as in he doesn't respond to messages in a timely manner; I am not talking about understandable delays such as a few days or perhaps even a week but 15 weeks all in all.

What I have tried up to now is to have a professional discussion about my progress so far, feedback and future directions. All seemed well, I received feedback regularly (for two weeks) and then I had to redo the discussion. This wouldn't normally count as an issue but he is incredibly inconsistent in his feedback. For example, the suggestions I have received this week are inconsistent with what he requested the week before, but consistent with what was needed two weeks back. There is always this back and forth between what I should modify within my thesis (he doesn't keep any records of what he suggested and always ends up in giving advice that contradicts what he mentioned previously). I've resorted to taking pictures of the sheets (sometimes feedback contains figures and tables) and actually including them in my thesis draft prior to sending it to him. Another issue is related to his organization of these drafts. Somehow, he never seems to read the latest submitted version the thesis draft, doesn't sort files by date, etc.. As a solution, I am now prefixing the thesis name (the name of the .pdf file) with the date in which I submit it. Unfortunately, it didn't help (I'm still at square one).

Sometimes feedback is lackluster, he regularly takes a week to read two pages and give advice on them. The problem is that they are from a chapter that has long passed review (and was agreed upon by him that it is correct, both theoretically and grammatically).

Any help as to how I may actually complete this thesis? It's pretty infuriating because I've finished with moderately high grades and am now stuck because of this supervisor at the end.

  • Can you estimate what the problem is? Is he lazy, overworked, burnt-out, uninterested, or just plain disorganised? This informs your action. – Captain Emacs Mar 7 '16 at 12:40
  • Mostly lazy and disorganized. – Sebi Mar 7 '16 at 13:14
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    You could put in a section: "You requested, I did:" where you list what he asked you to do (bullet points only, short sentences, easy to read). This is a classic example of "managing your manager", and here it is really needed. Can you do Dropbox? This way, you could make sure that the directory is always organised in your way. "they are from a chapter that has long passed review" - why does he have to read that again, then? – Captain Emacs Mar 7 '16 at 13:58
  • I have already done that. He does not read them :(. At this rate there doesn't seem to be a definite ending date for my work. – Sebi Mar 7 '16 at 14:57
  • Can your university allocate you a second supervisor? – Captain Emacs Mar 7 '16 at 15:36
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First of all, any relationship is a two way street. You can not blame everything on your supervisor, you are the one who chose him/her; and you are the one that should have request regular meeting with him/her in the past. You have two options:

  1. Managing the Situation: You can start managing the situation and start requesting regular meeting with him/her. He/she is not responsive on email? Well, you can see him/her on his/her weekly office hours. Doesn't have office hours? Well you have to pop in into his/her office and see if he/she is there and kindly ask him/her to respond to your email. You see what I'm trying to say here?

  2. Find Another Supervisor: You did take classes, and you saw the lecturers. You can always find a supervisor that does have the "common sense" part and kindly ask/her to do the master thesis with him/her instead. There are always young and talented lecturers (and not yet popular) that do take such cases at least because to gain some experience and also help such students.

Note: At the end of the day, you need to write your own thesis, and you are the one that present/defend your thesis at the end. So also pay attention to your own work and try to finish it ASAP as any supervisor has some limitation to help you figure out your own path.

  • Well, in my case no. I was given an assignment, a deadline (which is now extended by a few months) and a supervisor. I didn't have any freedom of choice in that regard. He is not a lecturer but an employee of an external institute to the university. I am writing a thesis in that company, not in the university or working with people directly affiliated with it. Changing the supervisor was and is not possible. My issue with working on my own is that he always wants me to change what I've written. From an 80 paper work I'm down to 58. It is very difficult for me to get what he wants. – Sebi Mar 7 '16 at 12:32
  • @Sebi Well as you are saying this is your only option. Then, you need to manage the situation by having regular meetings with him, show him what you have done, what you are willing to do, and why his approach is not fitting because you have only couple of months. At the end of the day he is your supervisor/boss and you need to maintain the situation and his comments. – o-0 Mar 7 '16 at 12:40
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First, you need to accept that you can't make them anything (nor anyone else for that matter).

With that out of the way, let's discuss what you can do in the situation. Your adviser is obviously either way too busy or just too easy-going. You made some good attempts to remedy the thing. (I'm not going to suggest to find another supervisor, because you won't be always in a situation where you can afford to do so and you'll rather often encounter such people you need to collaborate with)

I had a somewhat similar situation regarding the conflicting requirements a while back. After the meeting, I would just compose an email with the bottom line(s) of the meet-up. This email would contain a list of action items that need to be addressed before the next meeting, with the person responsible for them:

subject: action items

  1. read XYZ paper, see how it relates with ABC experiment (you)
  2. extend x.y table with something (you)
  3. check with prof. someone to schedule you a slot on the lab equipment (your adviser)

This needs to be short and concise. Before long, you will have a steady email stream of a written trace of your requirements and their progress. It is in one place, chronologically ordered. Feel free to include your thesis versions along.

  • I have already done this. He doesn't seem to take them into account. – Sebi Mar 7 '16 at 12:34
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    the point here is that he doesn't really need to, it is you who takes care of them. when you go to a meeting, the first subject should be "last time we discussed the following things...". This approach should work, if the adviser needs a kick start with pre-chewed information, because he is overburdened with other things (disorganized, overly busy, etc.), but still does care. It is important that he needs to do nothing for this to work, no replies, to emails of his own, he doesn't even need to read them. You just need to bring the last mail to the next meeting. – user3209815 Mar 7 '16 at 13:15

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