I have recently become a Master's student that is in a research group on theoretical elementary particle physics. The program lasts for 2 years and I am expected to have a Master's thesis written up by the end of it. However, I have been told that the research has to be done completely on my own and have received pretty much no instructions or guidelines as to what is expected of me throughout my Master's degree. At the same time, I feel like there are unwritten and untold expectations of what I should be doing, with the peer pressure suggesting that I should figure it out on my own instead of ask someone else.

Despite this, I have asked some of my peers and also my professor, but my peers have told me that everyone goes through the same process, and my professor just tells me that I have to do my own research by myself. As such, I am at an impasse as I feel like I do not know enough about the field right now to embark on any original research. I do have an idea of how broad it is and the sort of prerequisites that I have to study, but there just seems to be too much ground to cover in 2 years, not to mention that I do not have a concrete idea of what are of high energy physics I would like to do my Master's thesis in.

Is this a normal situation I am finding myself in? If so, then is the only solution to just "deal with it"?

Any advice will be deeply appreciated as I find myself feeling extremely lost right now.

P.S. I am in the same institution and research group as I was when I was doing my Bachelor's degree, and had the experience of writing up an original research Bachelor's thesis in the span of 2 months whilst being supervised by a Post Doc in my research group. However, I do not feel like I had a complete grasp of what I did, and though it is quite specialised within the field (String Phenomenology), I do not think I have enough knowledge to even do research surrounding the topic I researched for my Bachelor's thesis.

  • This sounds either wrong or like an university specific oddity. Did you check with study/course coordinator (not your "supervisor") how much guidance you should get? If that doesn't fit what you get in this group, you could ask to be set in a different group or your supervisor might be informed how to supervise master students.
    – Mark
    Commented Oct 9, 2017 at 16:56

2 Answers 2


I find it odd that you have been given absolutely no guidance whatsoever. That doesn't quite sound right. While your advisor may not give you step-by-step guidance to getting started, a little bit of a start by explaining a problem to tackle or suggesting some recent review articles to look at would be the least an advisor could do to get a student started.

When you're done with your higher education, the goal of it will be to enable you to become an expert in a field in which you haven't studied or explored. Learning how to learn is the most important skill you can develop—and your advisor should help you to build those skills!


To me this sounds very wrong. I started my PhD in theoretical high-energy physics (before changing track and becoming a pure mathematician researching geometry, still with some string theory inspiration). I did a 1-year Master's in maths/theoretical physics without a thesis in the UK before my PhD, so I was in a similar position as you are now when I started the PhD -- and I think it's pretty clear that in theoretical physics the gap between what you do in any of your lecture courses and actual research questions is huge.

My view is: As a Master's student in this field, you can absolutely not be expected to invent your own research project completely on your own. Even as a PhD student, it is a crucial part of your supervisor's role to suggest research projects and guide you on what material to learn to be able to make progress (although if you do come up with your own ideas, that's great).

What about students in other research groups? How is it going for them?

My advice would be to change supervisor, to be honest.

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