I'm currently working for a professor in a research institution. The typical interaction with my advisor is as follows:

Me: Hi! How was your weekend/conference/trips?

Prof: Good. Do you have any results to report to me?

Me: (Frantically take out my report) I've done this, that, and that like what you've told me.

Prof: Good. Keep working on it.

Me: (Immediately leave the scene and get back to work)

While I understand that I cannot force him to have any casual conversation with me, it's bugging me that we talk about nothing but research everyday. I have almost no clue about who he is or what he does outside research.

Based on other questions that I've read in this site, I have a feeling this is a norm in academia, though my relationship with my undergrad research advisor was much more friendlier and casual than my current advisor.

My question is: How can I develop a more casual relationship with my advisor? Is this even desirable in academia?

Perhaps this is just my personal preference, but I'd like to have a more casual relationship with someone that I see everyday and talk to everyday. His office is located 5m away from my workspace, and I report to him 1-2 times a day. We also bump into each other numerous times in the corridor, and exchange awkward hi. I don't like to work with someone if I view him as an authoritative figure that only demands results from me, and I often get fearful to see him or talk to him, which I don't think is healthy.

He is not a super-introvert that doesn't like talking to people, because I often see him laughing, talking, and joking around with other professors. That has never happened between two of us.

Somewhat related, but not really: How to deal with an advisor who wants a “friendlier” relationship with me than I do?

How to maintain a good relationship with advisor when there is no need for it but I want it?

EDIT: This is in US, and he does not have any students right now, though he has had students in the past.

  • 6
    Ignore the fact that he's your advisor for a moment. How can I develop a more casual relationship with [someone]? You can make overtures in the hope that eventually they're reciprocate, but if they don't want to reciprocate, they won't. Move on.
    – JeffE
    Mar 30, 2017 at 0:26
  • Does he have lots of students? How is he with other students? Also, what country is this?
    – Kimball
    Mar 30, 2017 at 1:47
  • 7
    I supervise a PhD student who is about my age. While I enjoy casual talk with them during a coffee break, it really bugs me when they insist on casual chatter during and after our work meeting because I am usually very busy and would rather go back to what I was doing before. Perhaps your prof is just trying to optimize time management. Or perhaps they are simply not interested.
    – Miguel
    Mar 30, 2017 at 4:11
  • You could try to arrange a lunch with him. People are usually more relaxed over food and open up easier. A possible preamble to the offer would be sth like "I am really inspired by A, but I know you are very busy during the working hours. Could we discuss it over lunch?", where A is something that he has written or a skill he has or whatever, relevant to career in academia or research but falls outside the immediate scope of your current work and that you find genuinely exciting.
    – 12345
    Apr 1, 2017 at 8:39

4 Answers 4


You stated a key point

Perhaps this is just my personal preference, but I'd like to have a more casual relationship with someone that I see everyday and talk to everyday.

It could very well be that his personal preference to take time to foster the kind of relationship that you describe - it could also be a case of him not feeling comfortable have a casual relationship with his employees/advisees. There is no way to really know how long he has known the other professors that he speaks and laughs with.

You can not and should not force it. This is very important, some people recoil when people try and force these kinds of things.

To be honest, based on the conversation snippet, it sounds like he is not being rude at all, but just is focused on the task and on maintaining positive progress.

It is not a bad thing to have a strong working relationship - a polite and productive relationship is beneficial to many working relationships. I would suggest to focus on that aspect.


My advisor was rather driven. I suppose if he hadn't been, he wouldn't have accomplished nearly as much as he did.

There were times when he was ready to open up, and times when he wasn't. Once, for example, he asked me to drive him to the airport. I went to the wrong airport because he was telling me how he made it through food shortages in the immediate postwar period and it was fascinating. (It was okay, I realized my mistake and got him to the correct one in time for his flight.)

In contrast, I remember running into him on a Sunday when we were walking up the steps of our building, heading to our respective offices. I was elated about a concert I had been to the night before, but I could see that he hadn't even taken in what I had said. He was completely focused on getting to his office and progressing with whatever he had in his head that day.

My spouse is like that too.

Don't take it personally.

  • Unusual to meet a "driven" person asking someone to drive them to the airport !
    – Trunk
    Jan 17, 2022 at 20:36
  • @Trunk - Why? How should he have gotten to the airport? Note, he didn't drive. He was a big walker and lived pretty close to campus. Also, note that the airport was pretty far away and that was before Uber. He would have had to take a taxi if someone hadn't given him a ride. Oh, and he was single. Jan 18, 2022 at 4:14
  • Well, I'd have thought that this driven individual would "just do it" and learn to drive. Oh, and he was single - so he couldn't impose on a presumably 100% dedicated wife ? Ye Gods . . .
    – Trunk
    Jan 21, 2022 at 13:59
  • @Trunk - He had a cadre of devoted students who helped him out on the rare occasions he couldn't walk where he was going. He was driven when it came to his science, and for his passion for walking. Definitely not driven to drive. More like driven not to drive. Jan 21, 2022 at 16:46
  • He didn't use his car to promote his scientific ideas like Feynman: symmetrymagazine.org/article/may-2014/saving-the-feynman-van
    – Trunk
    Jan 21, 2022 at 18:33

Although it is certainly true that many faculty are socially maladroit, it is also true that there is a definite delicacy in the mentor/mentoree relationship. It is not a peer relationship, and it is far from equal in terms of "power". Thus, even with the best of intentions, it cannot truly be a "peer" relationship, even if "friendly". And I think that it is important, just as in good parenting, that as mentor/superior, one be absolutely sure at all times to be squeaky-clean, and adamantly assume the persona that one knows one should.

Sure, this does not directly preclude "more genuine" personal interactions, but, actually, it is completely mandatory that one stay within certain boundaries.

Some faculty have a subliminal understanding of this, but/and through nerdiness cannot behave in a way that accommodates this complication-to-life. Others clumsily ignore it, and may "hit on" their students and postdocs...

Seriously, there truly are (in my opinion) several delicacies in personal relationships with people over whom one has great power. That enormous power differential is inevitably an elephant-in-the-room, and to pretend that it's not is, for the more-powerful person, violently irresponsible, in my opinion.

So, there is a range of ways your supervisor may be "impersonal", and they are not at all necessarily negative.

(Also, as I have gradually come to understand, substantial age differences do entail substantially different perceptions, and different implicit interpretations of situations... who knew?)


Maybe there are written university/departmental guidelines on staff-student engagement.

Maybe the professor believes that a casual banter with a student is a mere overture to a personal relationship unwanted by him/her.

Maybe the professor has been deceived in the past when he/she allowed the supervisor-student conversation become too casual/personal.

Maybe the professor knows that in academia - as in all work situations - playing the man can be a lazy subordinate's way of rising through the ranks at minimal expense of effort.

Maybe the professor wants you to go out into the world - away from academia - find a person you can truly merge minds and souls with so that your life (and academic work) may blossom as soon as possible.

Maybe all of the above.

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