Problems with my supervisor/project


I'm doing my MSc project after passing all my courses in the first year of the MSc curriculum. It's a combination of computational and experimental methods in biology. I originally wanted to do a purely computational project, but my supervisor talked me into doing both. He also talked me into doing a full-year project, instead of a half-year one.

I've spent almost 4 months in a lab now. The more I read and think about my topic, the more I'm convinced it cannot be done in the way my supervisor wanted it. In fact, I even have articles saying why it won't work. I showed him the articles and his response was "I did not know this". He than proposed a work-around. After 3 weeks of work and reading, I show him more articles saying this new approach won't work as well. He keeps saying his original idea is good, but how can I believe it when I have all those articles saying otherwise? Even my mathematical model says otherwise.

What should I do? I know that the idea of a master thesis project is to force students to work independently, but isn't it supervisors role to ensure this independence takes them into the right direction? I have a feeling my supervisor hasn't really though through this project before he offered to me. He even said something like "I'm only getting into this field of research". I know I made a bad choice, but how do I sort this out?

In summary, my problems are:
1. I don't believe in my project anymore
2. I have no confidence in my supervisor to guide me through the project
3. It's a full year project so I need to have a thesis (and results) that justify all those credits
4. I really want to go for a PhD, but I need a good thesis for this and I need to be finished on time (September 2010 at the latest)


Hi there.
What you describe is not too untypical, I suppose: your supervisor has not done the work himself yet, so of course he does not know whether it will work or not, and obviously he's not done extensive reading on it. I understand that you obviously have done some research on the topic and now know that the chosen approach wont work. Coming to your questions, and stating the obvious, you have two possible options now (and many variations to the option..) - either stick to your project and see the work done so far as part of the literature review. In that case, think about what would make the project work, what would make it worthwhile? It's all about ideas, and hopefully you'd get some input from your sup, but it will take your initiative on this. We all have to make changes/adjustments to our originally planned topic/approach and this is normal in research (to a degree at least). The other option is to quit your current project and supervisor and do something else (different project/sup). This obviously very much depends on how many other opportunities/sups etc are out there in your department, and I can't say whether this is a viable option for you.
I understand that you have lost confidence in your sup, but remember that now that you are doing research, there is more uncertainity involved in the project and part of learning how to do research is to learn how to deal with unforseen obstacles (and forseen ones, too). I believe that if you manage to get something semi-decent out of your project, you can be proud of yourself.
Whichever way you are taking your MSc forward, all the best.


======= Date Modified 06 Dec 2009 20:41:27 =======
Have you tried the technique? Maybe your supervisor is onto something. Just because it says in a paper it doesn't work, doesn't mean it won't. Also in any research project, there is trail and error until you find the right way of doing something. It'll be too easy just and not much of a challenge to be spoon fed a guaranteed way of getting good results. I only had 2 months to do my MSc project and there was an issue with one technique which held up writing my thesis. I eventually found a number of papers pointing out a crucial stage of the methodology my supervisor left out. I discovered it two weeks before the deadline. Oh well, it worked out in the end and now I'll never forget it.

You have still a very long time and it sounds like you're spending too much time researching, instead of just trying it out and seeing for yourself. I'm on a 2 year project at the moment (not study) and 5 months in I've already made many mistakes and had numerous failed experiments, only to learn from them and improve my techniques and now I'm starting to ripe the rewards of my hardwork by getting very interesting results. :-)