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Need advice on what to do about my master's degree

  • #1
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Main Question or Discussion Point

I have a major in mathematical physics and mathematics and I've started on graduate school january of the last year to get a master's degree in theoretical physics.

My real interest is fundamental physics, specialy related to general relativity and quantum field theory. I've talked to a physicist I knew since the begining of my undergraduate course and he accepted to be my advisor. He suggested QFT on curved spacetimes, using the algebraic approach. It is important to add that he and most physicists working on GR related subjects on this university are on the math department.

Unfortunately a month latter he passed away. I sought another physicist close to him and his research. He suggested me to search for two other professors, because he was going to spend a year out of the country.

The first one, closer to my interests, said he would happily accept to be my advisor, but being from the math department it was mandatory that I had one coadvisor from the physics department and he wound't accept it.

I sought the second one, but he said he didn't work with QFT. He proposed me a work on "extended bodies on curved spacetimed" using Dixon's approach. By the sound of it, I wasn't interested, but I wanted to be nice and said it was a nice topic.

There was a deadline to pick the advisor, and I was being pressed by it, so feeling out of options, I've tried to find a coadvisor, and accept this work, but in the end I simply couldn't find one. In the process, that professor believed I was somehow interested on the topic.

Since I wasn't finding any advisor on the physics department, the graduate course coordinator decided to allow me to have the first professor as my advisor without coadvisor. The issue is that another student was unhappy with her advisor, and said to the coordinator she demanded to have this professor as her advisor.

The coordinator assigned him to advise her, and the other guy to advise me. The professor then gave me the work on extended bodies in GR and I felt bad to say no because of the deadline and because it was already one exception. What he wants me to do: solve the problem of a dumbell of oscilating length falling on a Schwarzschild spacetime.

Now, as I said, I'm interested in fundamental physics and this problem is solving one exercise, of a system imagined by him to "test the math", not a system existing in nature with real motivations to investigate. To tell the truth, first semester last year I took one QFT course, and after going through QFT and studying important things that do occur in nature, it is being extremely demotivating to work on this.

I might add that when I said I was interested on GR it wasn't this. I meant the study of spacetime itself, the solutions to Einstein's equations, and so on. Most important: the fundamental physics aspects, concerning real systems, not ones invented for proposing exercises. On one hand, outside of my master's thesis I would happily one day study Dixon's formalism, while on the other hand, spend time on this problem is something I would never do if I could choose.

I worked on it for three months last year, and I'm really unhappy because it is not the direction I wanted to follow. I've felt embarrassed to tell him openly, so I've implied several times I didn't like what I was doing, but he didn't care much. Last time he even said he is obscessed with this problem.

I don't know what to do. On one hand I feel it is too late to do anything and I feel embarrassed to talk to him about the matter, on the other hand, I'm feeling really bad with this. I need advice. What should I do?
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
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We can appreciate your frustration about not wanting to go in the direction which circumstances forced upon you. However, you're in this boat and so you need to see it through.

I would sit down with some advisor you trust to first talk about the situation and then to help you decide on a course of action. If that course is to change advisors then you need to sit down with your advisor and explain your story.

In truth, in the working world you might get hired to do one project and then because of a changing climate get reassigned to another. Your choices are simple take the new assignment or find a new job. Perhaps you can negotiate something where you complete a portion of his project and he helps you find an advisor for the research you want to do.

One thing to ask yourself, the universe works in mysterious ways so perhaps what you learn on this project will help you in the future in ways you could never imagine. If you think this way then maybe your current project will become more interesting as you watch where it leads you.
 
  • #3
Stephen Tashi
Science Advisor
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I've started on graduate school january of the last year to get a master's degree in theoretical physics.

I worked on it for three months last year, and I'm really unhappy because it is not the direction I wanted to follow.
Are we to assume that you will do a Phd after you get your masters? If so, is doing your masters on one topic going to constrain your choices about a Phd topic? Will you even remain at the same university? How big a deal is the masters degree at your univeristy.? How many years does it usually take?
 
  • #4
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I would sit down with some advisor you trust to first talk about the situation and then to help you decide on a course of action. If that course is to change advisors then you need to sit down with your advisor and explain your story.
You mean talk to another advisor I know and trust to see what they think about it?

In truth, in the working world you might get hired to do one project and then because of a changing climate get reassigned to another. Your choices are simple take the new assignment or find a new job. Perhaps you can negotiate something where you complete a portion of his project and he helps you find an advisor for the research you want to do.
This is really a point. The only issue is that I feel that on my master's and my Phd I should be learning what I require for the research area I want to go. I believe the learning part is what bothers me the most. I think if I could learn what I want at the same time, perhaps I wouldn't be so bothered with the project. My advisor however wants me to fully commit to his project. Last year he handed me the original papers from Dixon and asked me to give two lectures a week to teach him and a student of his the topic. He recognizes he never studied it, and he is also not studying it now by the way. So I had to study and learn it all by myself in quite a hurry to teach them.

As for negotiation, last year I've tried coming up with alternative problems on extended bodies on GR, but he dismissed them because as he said he is obscessed with his project. So of course I could try, but I'm not sure he would be open for negotiation.
 
  • #5
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Are we to assume that you will do a Phd after you get your masters? If so, is doing your masters on one topic going to constrain your choices about a Phd topic?
Yes I'll do a Phd after getting the master's degree. I don't know if what I'm doing now constrains my Phd, but certainly it doesn't help. What I think is that in the master's I could learn things that would allow me a better work on the Phd, in the sense that I would start it with some of the required knowledge already, so I would have something to build on top. For example: whatever is the specific topic for my Phd, it will be related to QFT and GR and I'm not having opportunity to learn QFT at all (just the basics I learned on the course I took), while what I'm learning from GR is quite constrained, because the topic my advisor gave involves almost none of the more important aspects of it.

Could the fact that my master's isn't aligned with what I want for my Phd be an issue?

Will you even remain at the same university?
This is something that depends. If I find one advisor for the Phd which allows me to work on what I want, then yes. If not, I have other two universities in mind, and then I'll look there.

How big a deal is the masters degree at your univeristy.? How many years does it usually take?
To be sincere, I don't know how big a deal is the master's. The impression I have is that people care more about the Phd. There are students that don't even go through the master's first, I did because I wanted to use it in order to prepare for the Phd.

It usually takes 2 years, mainly because that is the timespan of the payment. After that if one hasn't finished it yet he will have to finish it for free. So I would need to finish it this year. Also, some professors take this very seriously and don't even accept one student if they think he won't finish it in 2 years.
 

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