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As part of my MSc I have to produce a Thesis/Dissertation which forms an integral part of the program and classification (roughly 1/4 - I imagine the subject can make a difference, so I should say that my MSc is in Mathematics in the UK).

I am wondering to what extend I should expect to be completely on my own in this endeavor. I have a supervisor who has a pretty good research reputation as far as I can tell from his publications and collaborations, so I'm quite happy in that sense, however it s becoming increasingly evident, that he will not provide much guidance when it comes to specific topic selection or anything else for that matter.

Is this normal and to be expected for an MSc Dissertation, or is it a bad sign that should make me think whether it may be better to switch? (I was under the impression that at such a junior level one could still expect quite a bit of hand-holding when it comes to the selection of a feasible topic).

1 Answer 1

I'm not sure how much of your issue is related to the specific field—mathematicians are known for being somewhat more independent than graduate students in, say, engineering.

That said, your advisor should at least show signs of being interested in your research. If you feel like you need help, and aren't getting any, then you need to make arrangements to get it. At first, I'd recommend talking to other graduate students and postdocs under your advisor. Next, I'd talk to other students outside the group; finally, I'd move on to other faculty.

It really depends on how easy or difficult it is to change advisors. If it's relatively easy, then in the end, it might be necessary as a last resort. If not, you'll need to make do with a rather unfortunate situation.

Ultimately, this is a case-by-case kind of situation: you'll need to talk to more people in your department and find out how widespread this is. Some advisors are completely hands-off, and expect their students to be self-motivating. Others are hands-on to the point of micromanagement. In math, my impression from conversations with colleagues is that the tendency is towards being hands-off, but it's impossible to say what will be the case in your specific department.