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sneaky monkey

Pressured into a research area by advisor?

4 posts in this topic

Hi everybody, 

I am starting a masters program in the fall and I am wondering if Im having a normal experience for picking a thesis.  I have a pretty strong idea of the area Id like to study. Im interested in remote sensing in intertidal areas with an emphasis on understanding the impact of sea level rise. I got into a Marine Science program that has access to a lot of folks doing various work across different aspects of marine science including remote sensing  but my advisor is a marine mammal and GIS specialist.  For some reason or another, my advisor got the impression that I would be interested in working in wetlands. There is a research team that she is coordinating with that is already doing UAV RS wetland work and she really seems to want me to do research with them.  I am interested in the UAV part but really am much more interested in intertidal areas. I will probably go on and do a PhD after my masters but Im wondering what I should do?  Should I just do the wetlands project?  Its part of a NOAA research study and the funding, resources and support are already there.  I would get a lot of support but its not what Im really excited about at this point.  Should I stick to my gut and really push to do an intertidal project?  Or should I just do the wetlands work and if Im still interested in intertidal areas find a lab for a PhD project that will support intertidal RS.  Also, my advisor said she really doesn't recommend people coming into a masters program with plans for a thesis, that they should take a semester or two to see what is even possible before they pick something, so I am willing to admit that I am probably jumping the gun. I also feel like Ive gotten off on the wrong foot with her. I really like this advisor and the program does seem like a good fit otherwise. I do feel  a little annoyed that I am being pressured into the wetlands research but I also realize that sometimes for a masters program its more important to just get a project done. 

Thanks

SF in the bay area 

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I come from a very different field so I'm not sure I really have a good sense of how different your interests are from the proposed topic your advisor is suggesting. I also don't really know how independent students in your field usually are in picking topics vs working on something their advisors suggest. So with those caveats, two things that come to mind is first, I think your advisor is completely right that you should come in with an open mind and see where the program takes you once you've done some coursework and gotten to know some people.* What's the point in further studies if you've already decided you know everything there is to know? You should want this new program to spark new ideas you can't even think about now! Second, especially if you're planning to go on to a PhD, I think the precise topic you choose is less important than having a successful completed project (though of course you also don't want it to be completely unrelated to your PhD plans!). Overall -- for the PhD too -- I think having an advisor that is a good fit for your personality and work style is a heck of a lot more important than working with the person whose interests are most closely aligned to yours. A good advising relationship is crucial for a successful PhD -- for your mental health and as a consequence for your ability to not only finish the program but actually do well. I would always pick the better fitting advisor over the topic that (I think) is a better fit. Also keep in mind, whatever you work on, at some point in the life of the project, you'll be tired of it. That, too, is the nature of long and involved projects... 

* There is a question of when you have to commit to an advisor and topic -- can you start the program, then realize that you are heading in a different direction than you had thought (not uncommon), and choose to change advisors/topics? 

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I agree you should definitely go into your studies with an open mind and would add that you don't want to necessarily pigeonhole yourself into one thing or another so early. That being said, you obviously have your research interests and a broad area you want to work in. If my supervisor turned around and said I would be doing research totally unrelated to what I applied to do and completely divorced from my interests, I would certainly feel not only incredulous, but also quite angry. But it doesn't sound like your case is that extreme. Like fuzzy I have no idea what goes on in your field, and I also don't know what you signed up for as it were, but from what you've said it does sound like there is some crossover between what you want to do and what your advisor is proposing? Are you still doing remote sensing(?) and using other tools that you can carry over to another area (intertidal) in the future? Will you get valuable methodological/practical/whatever experience from wetlands work that relates to other areas you are interested in? For example, I have to do some work in areas outside my own field of interest from my own MA (I do medieval history, but I'll be taking classes in modern lit and ethnic theory), but from this study I'll pick up a new set of tools with which I can go back and use in my actual area. Is yours a similar kind of case?

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HI fuzzy logician and qkhitai,   You are right. The whole reason Im doing this is so I can learn! so I will try to keep an open mind. I don't actually know all that much about wetlands so who knows, it could really be right up my alley.  Coastal intertidal areas are related enough to wetlands so there should be enough overlap to keep me interested. As far as advisors go,  this program is interdisciplinary and at some point I will have to pick an additional advisor to work with on top of my current advisor.  We are encouraged to work with more than one person so I don't think I would have to switch labs even if I did end up choosing an intertidal project.  And the skills I would get are definitely transferable to my entire field so it would probably be worth it. Lots to think about and nothing to decide right now.  Thanks for your feedback though! 

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