I need to choose a supervisor for my upcoming term project. I asked one of my professors if he had any ideas for a project for a student with my skill set, and he offered to supervise me as he wasn't teaching during the project timeline.

Getting to the point, this was way early in the course, and my professor has witnessed me do terribly in the course so far. My interests lie in the subject matter of this course, and I really enjoy this prof and want to do well, but for some reason, the way we are tested really throws me off and I end up overthinking and eventually screwing up the answer.

I'm worried about bringing the topic of my term project up to him again, because I'm worried he will not be impressed with me and refuse to work with a student doing terribly in his course.

Should I bother talking to him about it, or should I disregard the possibility that he could be my supervisor?

Edit: I do want to clarify that the testing style has nothing to do with what my prof asks, it is more of the type of question that throws me off... Because this is somewhat of a computer science class (which I have never taken before) we are asked to come up with algorithms on the spot, and that's what I have trouble with. I can only imagine that this can be remedied by more practice with the software we use.

  • I had a professor who would not even "Facebook friend me" until I passed his class (after I had failed it previously). I thought that was bizarre, but that was his (personal) choice. That's why I think Austin's answer is spot on.
    – jpaugh
    Nov 3, 2016 at 2:22
  • 5
    @jpaugh: I'd personally avoid adding anyone on social media who is in a supervisory position unless you can guarantee that nothing you ever post will put them in a compromising position. (And in my mind at least, that's a fairly high bar to reach.)
    – tonysdg
    Nov 3, 2016 at 2:59
  • 1
    @tonysdg or put you in an awkward position, which is an impossible bar to reach given that people can tag (etc.) you and keeping on top of settings to make sure you get to approve every mention of yourself is essentially impossible.
    – Chris H
    Nov 3, 2016 at 9:59
  • @ChrisH: I dunno, prior to leaving social media I was pretty good at ignoring most tags sitting in my approval inbox ;)
    – tonysdg
    Nov 3, 2016 at 15:25
  • @tonysdg keeping up with the tag requests is one thing, keeping up with the privacy options another (it's not far-fetched on past performance to imagine facebook adding a new "tag in videos" feature with the default privacy option set not to match "tag in photos" but to "let anyone tag me any time")
    – Chris H
    Nov 3, 2016 at 15:27

4 Answers 4


When in doubt, communicate.

That is a golden rule that I have learned that works well in virtually any scenario. If you explain what you think your issues are, the prof can try to help you. Not talking to him won't magically make this go away.

If anything, he would probably think higher of you for discussing this with him.

  • 3
    To add: he may reject you anyway based on marks only, so communication may give you another chance to clarify what's going on. Nov 2, 2016 at 18:27

I suggest the following:

First, take each of the exams you did poorly on, and re-do them as take-home exams. Not to try to raise your grade, but as a learning activity.

Ask your professor if he would be willing to go over them, to help you master the material.

This can help in several ways:

1) It will help you master the material.

2) It will help you prepare for the remaining exams.

3) It will show your professor that you are a conscientious student, with a true interest and aptitude.

4) It might give your professor the idea that his exams may have some design flaws and get him thinking about how to fairly test his students' understanding of the course material.

Through your interchanges resulting from the exam reworking, I think you will pick up on more signals from your professor, and then will hopefully have an easier time knowing which direction to go for the project.


I'm worried about bringing the topic of my term project up to him again, because I'm worried he will not be impressed with me and refuse to work with a student doing terribly in his course.

Your hesitation comes from the fear of confirming the notion (that you have developed in your mind) that your professor won't want to supervise you because you've done poorly in his class.

Do not stop yourself because of your fear. If he doesn't want to work with you, and he tells you that, you suffer no less than by having never asked him in the first place as long as you forego your ego. Instead, almost every other outcome of pursuing this opportunity with your professor has an upside; he may accept to supervise you, or he may decline but give you a lead or suggestion of an alternative (that will at the very least give you a platform to ask more questions and move ahead in your progress). Or simply you will learn more about yourself and your professor.

Don't be afraid. Ask. And when in doubt of situations like this, assume the kindness of others. You'll be surprised at how often this assumption can become actualized once you've tested it (and sometimes, the assumption alone is enough to make it a reality).


I have completely different advice than everyone else:

Regarding the testing issue: contact your college's test center/academic support services. Inform them of which test(s) and the specific problem you are having for the first time. You are likely not the first one with this same issue. An alternate format may already be on file or you can retake the test at the test center with extra time allowed. Academic support will explain your options. Many students use these services. Important: faculty are used to working with the college testing facility whatever their system is and must do so only when they are asked to provide content.

If you were to mention a testing issue to your instructor they would refer you anyway, the volume of requests is high and they open themselves/college to lawsuits if the formal route isn't followed. Professors don't think twice about it and certainly would not draw conclusions about you based on your use of this academic service.

Regarding the project, meet with him/her in person and speak to them directly about the project. You can explain your strengths, interests, etc. and make genuine inquires. See if there are reservations you can likely resolve by providing information to him.

For this, definitely use face-to-face dialogue; no one appreciates requests via social media or explanations via email. Do not assume that they made a connection about your progress in the course and your project request. This would result in your display of anxiety at best. Or worse, be an insulted you believe their decision making process is inept.

However, should your coursework come up in conversation you may want to let him know you've experienced a testing issue in this course that you were previously unaware of. And assure him that you are addressing it and have already contacted the support services department.

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