I'm in an online part-time graduate program at a well-established state university in the U.S.. I'm having a hard time getting responses from professors when it comes to asking about potential research topics for a final project that is required for my degree and asking for them to be my advisor. I imagine it's a mix of things causing this:

  1. My e-mail messages might be too long. Although they are direct, I haven't met these people before, and I usually give them a 2-3 paragraph message introducing myself and the goal. No more than this.
  2. I'm in a M.S. online program. I'm not a Ph.D. student who is on-site, and thus cannot contribute more to whatever research they are doing as much as I could.

I've read advice online and haven't found anything about this particular situation.

How do people go about finding an advisor if they're in an online program? What can I do to maximize the chances of having a professor at least respond to an e-mail I send?

If this question is too broad, I can delete it.

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    The problem with online programs is that it's very hard to develop relationships with faculty. In a physical program, you'd take a class with a faculty member who would get to know you as a person and as a scholar. It's very hard to do so online. Are you able at all to travel to meet the faculty in their offices during their office hours?
    – RoboKaren
    Commented Aug 31, 2016 at 20:13
  • @RoboKaren Not very easily. I live about 6-7 hours' drive away. Commented Aug 31, 2016 at 20:16
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    You may want to make that investment.
    – RoboKaren
    Commented Aug 31, 2016 at 21:10
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    In many MS programs that have both thesis and non-thesis options its very common that faculty are simply unwilling to supervise MS theses and students are essentially forced into the non-thesis option. Commented Aug 31, 2016 at 23:33
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    Ah, well, good that the coursework is the same... but/and the lack of personal contact and acquaintance with faculty is extremely unfortunate... surely more unfortunate than people realize when they embark on such a thing. Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 0:35

1 Answer 1


I think it depends on the nature of the particular online graduate program. Unfortunately, for the reason RoboKaren suggests in her comment, I think that many faculty don't care for online education. Which faculty members recruited you to come? Which of them answered your questions when you applied? Which are teaching your classes, or other online classes available through the same program? These are the faculty members that have made some investment in this program, and I think they are the ones most likely to be willing to supervise you.

Three more pieces of advice:

  • I strongly second RoboKaren's office to travel to the campus and meet with as many professors as you can. Let them know that you're an online enrolled student and that you're travelling 6 hours each way and hope to meet with them. Knowing that you're going to such an effort will probably lead some of them to take you more seriously.

  • Don't ask anyone to be your advisor on the spot, or over an initial e-mail. It is a major commitment, which most people wouldn't make to a stranger (whether online or not). Wait until you know each other well and the professor is somewhat familiar with the quality of your work. In the meantime, start smaller. For example, if one professor recommends a particular paper for you to read, read it and ask some thoughtful questions. This has the chance to make a very positive impression.

  • If this goes poorly, you might consider withdrawing and enrolling in an in-person graduate program, if at all possible.

Good luck to you.

  • Not that I disagree with you at all - thank you for the advice - but on "Let them know that you're an online enrolled student and that you're travelling 6 hours each way and hope to meet with them. Knowing that you're going to such an effort will probably lead some of them to take you more seriously," I've heard that graduate schools often don't want you to visit unless 1) you're an admitted Ph.D. student or 2) you live close enough away so that driving wouldn't be much of an effort. I have seen evidence of 2 - I used to live about 30 minutes from this campus, and when I was visiting [cont.] Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 11:41
  • [cont.] , I was asked how far away I live. This particular person remarked that it didn't seem far away, so we went ahead with the visit planning. Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 11:42
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    Heard in what context? I'm guessing that might have been advice for people applying to a graduate program, not for people who have already enrolled and are paying tuition. If you are paying tuition to this university, you should certainly not feel bad about showing up and attempting to schedule appointments.
    – Anonymous
    Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 14:12
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    That said, I would first recommend contacting the graduate director, or whoever is responsible for this online program. Tell them that your emails have not been answered, and ask how you are supposed to find a supervisor for your project.
    – Anonymous
    Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 14:13

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