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Is it too much work to do research for two professors at once?

  • #1

Main Question or Discussion Point

I have plans to do research for two professor, all the while running public observatory sessions, which will be minimal, but also alongside a full courseload.
My Courseload:
Differential Equations
University Physics II
Intro to Engineering
Introduction to Systems engineering
English

So my courseload isn't too bad. I dont really have much experience with research, so not really sure how much extra work it will be. I am pretty dedicated, but sometimes have problems with procrastination and staying focused(ADD), If i could get an idea of how many hours per week are generally required for research, it would help me decide if i can handle it.
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
673
2
Don't do it man! Coming from a fellow ADDish procrastinator who ran simultaneous projects for years, you probably won't do good research if you try to spread yourself that thin and one solid project always beats two flakey ones. As for hours? Totally depends on the professor. Most really don't stay on top of you unless you're getting paid for it (and even then, plenty still won't stay on top of you), so you pretty much set the hours. (This usually does not work well for people with no attention spans unless the adviser is good at managing ADD cases.) But, research is a time suck, 'specially when you're stuck or trying to get that one thing working. Ball park: if it's an independent study at least as many hours a week as a class worth that many credits and something like 5 pages per credit for the final report, and if it's volunteering look at how much time the other undergrads spend in the lab.
 
  • #3
eri
1,034
20
Most undergrads flake on one research project, let alone two. An undergrad researcher is a ton of the professor's time and almost never useful, so don't take up the time of multiple professors when you have very little time to devote in the first place. Pick one and see how that goes; a good undergrad researcher should try to devote about 15-20 hours a week to a project.
 
  • #4
106
1
The thing with a lot of research is, there's no clearly defined finish line. Over the course of high school and much of college, your work takes the form of discrete assignments. You work on one, finish it, and move on to the next project. As long as you don't overload yourself, you can complete all your assignments in a satisfactory manner because each has a definite point at which you can say, "I'm done with this one." Research doesn't usually follow this format: accomplishing a task should, almost by definition, suggest further studies, which beg pursuit. As a result, you can't spend time on one project without sacrificing time you could have spent on another. Simultaneously taking on multiple research projects necessarily degrades how much you get done for each. In my experience, it's better to limit yourself to one at a time. If burnout or losing focus becomes a problem, you could try switching between different facets of your project; at least then, your efforts will remain concentrated towards the same ultimate goal.
 
  • #5
272
0
I think what everyone is trying to say is, are you crazy? I've heard of honors students doing amazing things with full work load and overloaded classes. But research and exams are two different animals, you can't bs research unless your research topic is already bs'ed. In that case I don't know which professor would do such a topic with anyone.

I've done a few undergrad research topics already and doing it in a normal semester can already be a daunting task. I'd like to see you pull off 2 publication worthy papers while studying for exams and completing class projects. Amazing or not, time just doesn't stop for us science/engineering folks.
 
  • #6
So obviously I need to choose one professor to do research under. I have meetings scheduled with two professors. If I turn down the offer from one professor, in order to accept another, would the other professor be at all offended? I ask this, because I may return to this professor to do research again in the future. I dont want it to be a case where the professor says, "well this kid turned me down before, so why should I give him another chance".
 
  • #7
Simfish
Gold Member
818
2
Most undergrads flake on one research project, let alone two. An undergrad researcher is a ton of the professor's time and almost never useful, so don't take up the time of multiple professors when you have very little time to devote in the first place. Pick one and see how that goes; a good undergrad researcher should try to devote about 15-20 hours a week to a project.
Wow seriously, I'm not alone? I kept on feeling SO GUILTY about flaking two professors in the past. :( But is it common? I just feel like I wasted time because I'm not even going to get any recommendations from it. :( Although I certainly did learn some things.
 
  • #8
269
1
Wow seriously, I'm not alone? I kept on feeling SO GUILTY about flaking two professors in the past. :( But is it common? I just feel like I wasted time because I'm not even going to get any recommendations from it. :( Although I certainly did learn some things.
I'm in the guilt box right now.

I'm pretty sure I've flaked my way right out of any actual responsibility, to the point that my professor is just telling me to make random useless graphs.

I don't really know how to switch projects though (I want to look into a completely different subfield of physics to get more experience of what I like and what I don't). Since there is no real "goal" there's no natural stopping point, and I don't like this method of lesser and lesser contact over time. What would be an appropriate conversation to have in my situation? I want to preserve him as a potential contact and a person I can look to for advice and mentorship on occasion. But I do want to pursue other research.
 
  • #9
Nabeshin
Science Advisor
2,205
16
I'm in the guilt box right now.

I'm pretty sure I've flaked my way right out of any actual responsibility, to the point that my professor is just telling me to make random useless graphs.

I don't really know how to switch projects though (I want to look into a completely different subfield of physics to get more experience of what I like and what I don't). Since there is no real "goal" there's no natural stopping point, and I don't like this method of lesser and lesser contact over time. What would be an appropriate conversation to have in my situation? I want to preserve him as a potential contact and a person I can look to for advice and mentorship on occasion. But I do want to pursue other research.
If you're interested only in advice and mentorship, then I highly doubt he would refuse to give you that if you simply say you'll be leaving the research group to pursue other interests.

If you're interested in letters of recommendation or something like that... then you're in trouble, because from what you have said it sounds like you are completely useless as an undergraduate researcher. So unless you decide to put your head down and get some actual work done, then I wouldn't count on anything positive. Also, don't be afraid to tell your professor what YOU want to do, and if he mentions something that needs to be done, if it's within your grasp, then do it! Taking control of your own research is very important.

Just another thing, but are you sure it's the subject of research and not research in general that you have a distaste for? The fact is, not everyone is cut out to do research. Like you say there's often no definite goal and you have to truck through months and years on end sometimes without tangible progress. Just something to think about before you approach another professor looking for another opportunity.
 
  • #10
AlephZero
Science Advisor
Homework Helper
6,994
291
So obviously I need to choose one professor to do research under. I have meetings scheduled with two professors. If I turn down the offer from one professor, in order to accept another, would the other professor be at all offended? I ask this, because I may return to this professor to do research again in the future. I dont want it to be a case where the professor says, "well this kid turned me down before, so why should I give him another chance".
That shouldn't be a problem unless they are bad professors, in which case why would you want to go back them again?

Remember you are living through this situation for the first time, but they have seen it many times already. They know very well that most undergrads are going to look at several options and then choose one. If you go back to one of them later, his/her question will most likely be "How well did you do on the project you actially chose?" not "Why didn't you choose my project?"
 
Last edited:
  • #11
6,814
12
So obviously I need to choose one professor to do research under. I have meetings scheduled with two professors. If I turn down the offer from one professor, in order to accept another, would the other professor be at all offended?
Generally no, and if they are then you probably wouldn't have wanted to work with them anyway.
 
  • #12
266
2
Pick the one that you are the most interested in research and have a good chance to actually do research for.

I would highly discourage working for two professors at once.
 
  • #13
269
1
If you're interested only in advice and mentorship, then I highly doubt he would refuse to give you that if you simply say you'll be leaving the research group to pursue other interests.

If you're interested in letters of recommendation or something like that... then you're in trouble, because from what you have said it sounds like you are completely useless as an undergraduate researcher. So unless you decide to put your head down and get some actual work done, then I wouldn't count on anything positive. Also, don't be afraid to tell your professor what YOU want to do, and if he mentions something that needs to be done, if it's within your grasp, then do it! Taking control of your own research is very important.

Just another thing, but are you sure it's the subject of research and not research in general that you have a distaste for? The fact is, not everyone is cut out to do research. Like you say there's often no definite goal and you have to truck through months and years on end sometimes without tangible progress. Just something to think about before you approach another professor looking for another opportunity.
Actually, I'm not sure at all if I like research in general. I like being an undergrad- learning physics, thinking about physics. Research...

The other thing is, I understand my motivations better than most (I like to think) but have less control over them than many (incurably lazy, not just in a work sense but also a moral and philosophical sense, it would be difficult to explain). I understand that much of my short term discipline comes from external and not internal motivation, and so doing something like research always ends up at last priority unless it was in a structured context. The pressures of graduate school, I assume, form one such context. So I am not sure if I want to completely give up on research until I've "done it right" one time through, and I won't have the motivation till that's my actual job.

Thanks for the guidance though. Definitely good to reflect periodically.
 

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