My advisor is a highly regarded scientist in his field. However, that also made him a very arrogant person. I have two things I desperately need help with:

  1. Research projects
    My advisor becomes more and more picky about research projects. He only wants to work on "important" projects and he only trust what is in his toolbox. New methods, new ideas, and trendy topics are usually considered either useless or non-essential to him, therefore I have never got a chance to work with him on anything that is trendy and more publishable. On the other hand, he is incapable of doing anything ground-breaking, as he would wish, at this point which push his students to work on their own.

  2. Student management
    My advisor really cherishes his time, therefore makes sure to never spend it too much on his students. And he hates to waste his time talking to people who are apparently not in his league. His students usually fall into this category. You can definitely tell when you go to talk to him and didn't prepare anything "interesting" or "important", he will put up this tired and impatient face. Therefore these days he chooses to collaborate with other professors not his students. Besides the science, he rarely helps student getting postdocs and couldn't care less about paper editing for his students.

I know most of you would suggest to switch, but is there a way or any soft skill to make this advisor-student relation work? Other than becoming an expert within his league in a short-period of time?

  • If things are as you describe, you really have nothing to offer, except extreme sucking-up, which still would not be as useful/attractive as higher-status connections for a high-status person. That is, if this person is selfish and self-centered (maybe a better description than "arrogant"), it's hard to see a way to induce them to be more generous with their time and energy... Oct 14, 2016 at 22:03
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    On the one hand, your advisor sounds like kind of a jerk. On the other hand you sound like you don't respect your advisor: "On the other hand, he is incapable of doing anything ground-breaking, as he would wish" and feel that his scientific limitations are holding you back: "therefore I have never got a chance to work with him on anything that is trendy and more publishable". Since you describe him as a "highly regarded scientist in his field", your criticism seems rather harsh, but it is possible that he is overly highly regarded in his field.... Oct 14, 2016 at 22:53
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    ...Anyway, it sounds like he doesn't respect you very much and also that you don't respect him very much. I must say that this is not a good foundation on which to build a professional relationship. If you can switch to working with someone else, that's worth considering. (If you don't want to switch: can you say why not?) If you can't...is this jerk really "holding you back"? By the way: "Other than becoming an expert within his league" A faculty member who doesn't want to work with those with less expertise is missing the entire point of the faculty-student relationship. Oct 14, 2016 at 23:01
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    @PeteL.Clark I guess what he means is that his advisor is not taking his students' welfare into consideration. That's why not publishing is fine with himself but will ultimately damage his students career. He can definitely come up with some less non-trivial projects for his student but he prefer not.
    – Random
    Oct 14, 2016 at 23:35
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    The use of the word "arrogant" when talking about others always raises flags with me. I of course do not know whether it applies in the concrete case here, but in my experience the term is often by people who would like to treat others with condescension or superiority and these others do not permit that to happen. The fact that the OP sends the message that their superviser's choice of topics or research style is not up to their standard they seem to expect reinforces this impression. Of course, it may be that we just have a clash of personalities here; or the OP has unrealistic expectations. Oct 15, 2016 at 0:38

1 Answer 1


Okay, he doesn't like to chit chat with students, and he is conservative in his choice of topics and methods. He's not proactive about arranging postdocs and he doesn't edit his students' manuscripts. None of these things strike me as deal breakers, necessarily, but of course you'd have to weigh these things against what he has in the plus column.

But speaking of pluses, all I got from your post is that he is a highly regarded scientist in his field.

I suggest you take the next couple of months to try to find the pluses. Find out what his strengths are. See if you can figure out what makes him tick.

One of my best memories of my advisor is that once, on a long drive to the airport, he told me his memories of staving off hunger by working as a translator for the U.S. army in postwar Japan.

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    Only a year into grad school, I got my adviser's entire life story -- and developed a fairly healthy respect for all he's been through -- on a 5-hour car ride to/from a major conference. Nothing improves -- or, I imagine, destroys -- adviser-advisee relationships like long car rides.
    – tonysdg
    Oct 15, 2016 at 2:02
  • What is the correlation between your advisor's story and the pluses/minuses of working with him? "See if you can figure out what makes him tick" - the OP shouldn't have to to do this, really.
    – PKG
    Oct 25, 2016 at 1:54
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    @PKG - The OP is having trouble connecting with this guy, and that is making it difficult for him to get the most out of working with this advisor. If they are able to make a bit of a human connection, though, that will help. Oct 25, 2016 at 3:15

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