Hi I wish to ask for advice regarding the role of an academic supervisor nowadays. Current I am pursuing my Master in a physical science school in one of the university in the South East Asia.

While my academic supervisor is an energetic man and enthusiastic about his research, his research interest is very wide and that each of his students (including me) is working on a title that is only remotely connected to each other. Even he himself is working on a completely different topic than the rest of us. One would expect that we as students would at least get some useful advices from him, but it occurs to us that he is also not clear on background of the research he assigned to us in the first place. While we understand we, as the person who conduct the in depth research, will be more knowledgeable about the field in the end, we notice that he does not understand the basic terminology and theory of the particular field, which I feels is on the level of undergraduates. He would expect us to explain all the basic theory and terminology in our field to him, without bother to study for himself for a thing that is easily reachable even in Wikipedia.

Another thing I observe is his reluctance to search for verification of his current knowledge. He would like to speculate on a thing (which is an established and obvious stuff) based on his own limited knowledge on the said area, completing disregarding our counter arguments based on established facts. Only by exposing the current literature and references (which is simply a google search) did he reluctantly accept his flaws. As a result, this have made us to be skeptical every time he presents an argument.

I would expect my case is uncommon and standalone, until my friends said almost the same things happen to him. Apparently this situation is applicable for other academic supervisors as well. Practically we have to complete our research by ourselves, with the purpose of academic supervisors reduced to providing a working space (I do appreciate that) and stamping their approvals for our paperworks.

An even worse news to hear to that my friend told me that, after his discussion with some experienced international industrial personnels, this seems to be the current trend in area of research in physical science even in overseas, that we are supposed to carry out our research without expecting "useful" suggestions for our work.

Sorry for the long post, as I am confused about the state of the research community right now. Is this to be a norm to be accepted, and that I am expecting too much?

  • Do you have postdoctoral researchers that you work with? My adviser doesn't necessarily know everything about every topic we're working on, but he hires postdocs who have relevant experience in those areas that we (as students) work closer with. He handles the administrative details (and contributes research ideas).
    – tonysdg
    Nov 3, 2016 at 4:01
  • No we do not have postdocs, and the Master and PhD in our school purely research based without any class or course to take. That means any verification on our works depends on our own resourcefulness.
    – Gosere
    Nov 3, 2016 at 4:07
  • Thanks for @ff524 for editing the title, but I think that the main question I wish to inquire the norm an advisor in advising a student, not the variation of topics and level of knowledges of my supervisor.
    – Gosere
    Nov 3, 2016 at 4:12
  • It's not clear what you mean by "the norm of a supervisor in advising". There are many different supervision "norms"; different styles work for different people. If you want to know if what your supervisor does is considered acceptable or within the range of normal supervisor behavior, you need to ask about the specific behavior of his that concerns you (whether it's his level of knowledge, or something else.)
    – ff524
    Nov 3, 2016 at 4:16
  • I agree with you, in this case it is his level of knowledge and reluctance to correct his knowledge. Feel free to edit my title as you see fit.
    – Gosere
    Nov 3, 2016 at 4:27

1 Answer 1


First thing: you are not alone. This kind of behaviour is very commom within the academia.

In order to pursue a graduate degree you have to accept that your path will be both restless and lonely! Restless because you will discover a whole new word, full of opportunities and overshoots. On the other hand, you are going to have a master degree, so you have to do your dissertation alone. Yes, you SHOULD count on your advisor help, for sure, but you are supposed to do most of the work by yourself!

You can face your advisor lack of knowledge as another challenge to be overcome and start to either join a lab with people doing similar work or, in the worst case, you have an endless remote source of information out here.

My greatest advice is for you to look up conferences within your field and be in contact with people that are doing similar work. It could help you a lot.


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