I am in a very sticky situation here. I was forced into a field I had very little interest in (for lack of other options) and I have been slacking off a lot. Whatever little enthusiasm I had for getting things done got waned because the professor assigned me to one of his senior research scholars whom I did not get along with. To top that, I have a major supervisor phobia. I didn't read papers I was assigned, to learn the techniques I needed for my thesis. And I never reported to my supervisor. I rushed into choosing a topic for my thesis which on surface appeared manageable, and my supervisor believed I had my things sorted. However, that is far from the case. I didn't set a limit to how deep I should delve into it, and I wasted a lot of time learning things that haven't gotten me anywhere. Now I'm left with a hazy problem definition, I do not understand the necessary techniques well, I have barely started writing my thesis, and I have no results. What are my options now? I am too afraid to talk it out with my supervisor because the result of that wouldn't be good and would further contribute to worsening my grade.

Moreover, I am beginning to question if I am really cut out for research at all. I do want to pursue a PhD but in a field I have a penchant for, and not what I'm stuck with right now. I am also worried that if things go further downhill, my supervisor wouldn't be writing out recommendation letters for me, thus making it impossible for me to get into any labs. Will I have to repeat the masters course because of this?

  • 13
    "further contribute to worsening my grade" - surely, if you hand in nothing (or nothing acceptable as a "thesis"), your thesis will already be graded with the minimum grade (the one denoting total failure), won't it? "if things go further downhill, my supervisor wouldn't be writing out recommendation letters for me" - how can things (in the thesis, at least) go further downhill than delivering virtually nothing and failing to communicate that in time? Apr 18, 2017 at 11:57
  • 2
    Can you edit your question to elaborate on the impact of your thesis to your degree at your university/department? At my department, the master’s programme takes two years, one of which is entirely devoted to the thesis (so somebody in your situation could at best work very hard to pass with a bad grade – but most likely will fail and have to repeat the thesis), but I acknowledge the possibility that it may be radically different in other fields and countries.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Apr 18, 2017 at 12:06
  • 3
    Is there a study counselor whom you can talk things over who is able to grant you some degree of confidentiality towards your supervisor? I'm sure you are not the first nor the last student to land in this sort of situation, and would assume that your university has some sort of mechanism in place for sorting it out. Above all, try to adjust your expectations to realistic levels. It's not the end of the world but also by no means a trivial situation. In any event, a counselor who is familiar with local conventions and regulations who doesn't have a stake in your degree would be good.
    – tripleee
    Apr 18, 2017 at 12:53
  • 3
    I was forced into a field I don't understand what you mean here. You can always opt out.
    – Nobody
    Apr 18, 2017 at 14:30
  • 4
    Regardless of what you do about the thesis, there is a more serious problem you need to face and solve. Every research project or job is likely to require the discipline to work on things you don't find fun, working with colleagues you do not get along with, and prompt communication when you are not making expected progress on a project. Your master's degree thesis was a good project for learning those essentials. Do you have another plan for doing so? Apr 18, 2017 at 14:46

1 Answer 1


The first thing to do is to bring your situation to your supervisor's attention. It is going to be a difficult conversation, because you should have warned much, much sooner. The later you delay this, the worse it is going to be. If there is any chance to salvage your degree, it depends on getting your supervisor's help and advice as soon as possible. If there is any chance of getting a recommendation from your supervisor, it depends on how you handle recovery from your current problem. Continuing to hide it is totally counter-productive.

Your supervisor should be able to help with deciding whether the three week deadline is achievable, given the requirements for a thesis in your department. If it is not achievable, maybe there is an option to delay the thesis for a few months, giving you time to do the work properly. My own master's degree thesis was delayed for several months because of an unusually heavy workload and travel for my day job.

Regardless of whether you go into research or industry, there are going to be times when you are required to work on something you do not find particularly interesting. You are going to have to work professionally with colleagues you would not choose as friends. It is going to be very, very important to keep your bosses informed of the state of your work, especially when it is going slower than expected, and you are in danger of missing a deadline. I suggest looking at recovering your master's degree thesis as an opportunity to work on those critical meta-skills.