Friday, July 8, 2011

This is the project that never ends....

My advisor was in town briefly yesterday, and managed to stop by the office in the sub-24 hour period he was going to be in the correct time zone. He's finally started reading the manuscript that's been sitting on his desk longer than I'm comfortable admitting. Foolish me, I was hoping this would be a sign that the associated project might wrap up sometime soon.

Despite the fact that the funding for this project ran out over a year ago, and I'm supported by a completely different project (i.e., my alleged thesis topic...), half of our brief meeting time was spent with him talking about all the things he wants to do next for this project. Note that this project was supposed to only be for my first summer, to get me acquainted with molecular dynamics, and help the post-doc working on it wrap up his papers.  So a project that was originally intended to last 3-6 months has now taken two years, and the papers *still* haven't left the building.

I'm reluctant to simply announce that I'm done with this particular branch of work, because I'm sitting on three more manuscript drafts, and I would like them to make it out the door sometime before I manage to. On the other hand, the longer I'm working on this first project, the longer it's going to take me to get fully entrenched in my supposed thesis project. It doesn't help that it takes some serious shoe-horning to try and get both of these projects into a thesis together in any sort of semi-coherent fashion.

Any suggestions for how to tell my advisor that I would like to work on my thesis project full-time?


  1. First, funding: As long as your advisor has not indicated otherwise on the availability of the funding, you should not worry about the source of funding that is supporting you—that is, which project it belongs to, how long it is for, etc. It's the responsibility of the advisor to shield the students from the funding issues and let them focus on their research.

    It seems to me that in the mind of your advisor, your side project has now turned into your thesis project. This is entirely normal. One often starts with a particular topic, only to find something interesting comes along on the sides which then takes a concrete form as a thesis-worthy project. I suspect that is what is happening.

    It is also possible that you do not like the idea of having the side project as your main topic, but I think that may not be the case. Your work is now worth two years and three publications—something quite difficult to achieve if you do not like what you are doing.

    If your advisor still believes that this is only a side project, then of course there is a problem and you need to talk. It does not make sense to do a side-project for two years, and then do the main project for next five years. But if that is what you really want, then I think it is best to say that you do not like the side project anymore or want a change in direction (if that is what you really want) toward your original topic, without mentioning anything about the funding.

    Best luck and keep posted.

  2. Alas, my advisor does still believe this is a side project, yet keeps coming up with things to tack on to it. I would be totally fine with this becoming my main project, but I'm also supposed to produce data on the other project for funding review meetings, and more than once he's mentioned I really ought to be focusing on that. I don't want to simply neglect the "side project" though, because the manuscripts are pretty well advanced. I may be stuck juggling for a while longer.

  3. Maybe you should just say that you want to convert your side project into your main project. If your advisor says no, then it gives you a reason to argue that you will then need to stop working on side project and focus entirely on main project. Whichever way it goes, you will be forcing the issue for the good.