When entering my MS I had an advisor assigned to me because I didn't finish undergrad in the university I'm now in. I want to research graph theory but my advisor researches in computational geometry, and every problem I proposed to him he dismissed as being too difficult (without really explaining why) and proposed an optimization problem with metaheuristics instead. As I'm approaching the end of the first semester now, I need to have an advisor confirmed and a topic semi-defined, so I half-heartedly accepted one of the problems he proposed just to get on with it.

Now it is about 3 days later and I'm already regretting the decision I made: I'm 22 years old and really like researching, but the thought of dedicating 2 years of my life on something I'm "meh" about does not make me happy. I think it is clear my advisor isn't going to open his mind to new ideas but is it too late to switch advisors? Since dropping out is not an option, as I moved from a different city and just settled in here, what should I do about it? Should I give up convincing him and try to find a new advisor in a month? Is it "normal" for people to take a research topic they don't really like for a masters program?

Edit: I realised I made a bad choice of word that made me seem like I am mad or demanding something from my advisor. I edited my question.

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    You don't need to give him an ultimatum to look for another advisor. Just quietly check if there is a faculty member doing work in graph theory and talk to them. They may be willing to take over as your advisor, in which case great, or they may not, in which case no need to get confrontational with your current advisor.
    – nengel
    Oct 19, 2017 at 4:05
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    An ultimatum is very rude. A supervisor presented with an ultimatum I would expect to show the student the door and never wanting to have anything to do with them ever again. But, if you do not like the topic, then look for another supervisor. It's not a good idea to spend your time on a topic you do not like. A sensible supervisor would understand that. Oct 20, 2017 at 1:00
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    I want to research graph theory but my advisor researches in computational geometry — These two fields have a huge overlap. (I work in both.) — every problem I proposed to him he dismissed as being too difficult — Yep. In my experience, most open problems in computational geometry and graph theory are open for a reason. That's what makes it fun! All that said, if you're unhappy with your advisor, despite your good-faith efforts to meet halfway, find a new one.
    – JeffE
    Oct 20, 2017 at 17:12

4 Answers 4


This sounds like you are mad at your supervisor, however, keep in mind that researchers are often very specialized in a particular field, and would have difficulties supervising a project in a different field, or using a method they are not familiar with. THerefore, if you want to do a particular project/work in a particular field/with a particular method, it's up to YOU to find a supervisor that has the matching expertise. Otherwise, you may indeed do what your supervisor suggests you.

Where I work, students have the opportunity to choose their own supervisor that matches their interests. If they don't, they will get assigned to someone. In that case, the students are warned that they may have to do a project that is suggested by the supervisor.

Sounds like it is the same at your place. And in that case, it is normal to do something that you don't really like.

Let me tell you, it's better to work at something you do like. Therefore, get out and find a supervisor that works in your field/method. And don't blame the supervisor for having his own interests.


I think it is clear my advisor isn't going to open his mind to new ideas...

That's because you're asking him to be a different person.

but is it too late to switch advisors?

This is a determination you have to make for yourself, because it may very well involve more time.

Should I give him an ultimatum and try to find a new advisor in a month?

An ultimatum is a bad idea - you're calling your advisor's bluff with no reason to believe they'll change, no incentive to make them do so, and no alternative options on deck. At best you're likely to get a 'no'. At worst you're talking about severely burning some bridges.

Instead, you should start talking to graph theorists about your interests, find out if they are too hard, and if not, if one of them is interested in advising you. Then talk to your advisor, tell them that your research interests are changing and you're switching advisors.

Is it "normal" for people to take a research topic they don't really like for a masters program?

Normal would involve statistics, but I'll tell you that I wasn't passionately interested in what I was researching for my MS.

  • +1 for "That's because you're asking him to be a different person." - OP doesn't want to adapt themselves, they want their supervisor to adapt. Oct 20, 2017 at 1:02

I noticed from your profile that you are located in Brazil, and I will answer assuming that you attend an university there.

First, you should consider that your advisor does not know you. You mention that you come from a different university, and given your situation your advisor may have no way to gauge your abilities. Even if he or she is interested in the topic, and/or could advise you on it, it's possible that he or she may not know whether you are capable of solving the problem you are proposing, given that your record is unknown.

Second, Master programs are short, and in particular in Brazil they are usually composed of 1 year of courses + 1 year of research/thesis writing. That leaves very little room for error. Your advisor is probably a lot more comfortable suggesting a problem that he or she knows how to solve and that he or she knows that can be solved in a short time span. Taking longer than 2 years to graduate is usually not well seen by the program administrators, given that it impacts them negatively with respect to CAPES evaluations.

Furthermore, unless you have already qualified your thesis proposal, it is very likely that you can still very easily change advisors, particularly if you are still taking courses (well, that's not the case if you are getting paid by the professor's grant and/or scholarships on his or her control, but still, you could try to find someone else). Giving a professor an "ultimatum" will be seen as a preposterous action and is deleterious to your situation (people talk, you know). It is ultimately you who depend on him/her, not the other way around.

Additionally, it might just as well be that your professor is not interested in your suggestion. There is nothing you can do about that, and it would be extremely naive to think there is. Why would he/she spent two years of his/her life advising someone they don't know on something they are "meh" about?


You're not going to change your advisor's mind and giving him an ultimatum is needless bridge-burning. Since he was assigned to you, it's probably not going to be that much of a surprise to him if you switch to someone else whose interests are better aligned with yours. It's a little surprising he hasn't suggested it already.

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