Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Choosing an Escape Path

I don't believe I've ever mentioned this before here, but those of you who know me personally know that I dislike my advisor. Hell, it has become borderline hatred now. I'm not going to get into the details about why, because they are long and irritiating to recall. It actually isn't so much about how she screws me over. That ticks me off of course, but I manage to stay away from her so it doesn't affect me that much. What really pisses me off is how she treats my friends and fellow labmates. I'm not a person that is easily angered. In fact, you have to try really really hard for a long time to get me angry usually. But the maltreatment of other people I know and respect is something that I absolutely can not tolerate.

Anyway, so I'm trying to graduate by this August. Technically I could graduate in May, but I don't want to push myself too hard like I did last year, so I'm not setting that as my goal. What I'm concerned about though is my so called advisor (who has never actually given me any real useful advice on anything) not approving of my thesis and therefore nullifying both my full-time offer with Freescale and also my possible entry into the neuroscience program. You see, my advisor likes to put things off until the very last minute and only after it's way past too late, does she actually give any feedback on the work/paper that she's signing off on. It's happened to me twice already in the last year (and also caused me to get a temporary incomplete in my thesis course last Fall), and I can not afford for it to happen a third time.

So today I spoke with one of the higher-ups in my department about my situation and asked him what I could do, or if it would be possible to switch advisors at this point. After a long discussion, I found out I basically have four options.

Option #1: Do the thesis and manipulating her into granting a pre-approval
Basically what this entails is sending my advisor an outline of everything I plan to do and what my thesis will consist of, and getting her written approval saying "Yes, this will be sufficient." Then if she tries to pull a 360 on me at the last minute and won't sign the thesis because it's missing content or whatever bullshit excuse she gives, I have a good reason to backfire at her and tell her she already approved of this work, and that's what I've done. It seems like it could be a bit of a risk, but I have powerful allies in this battle that she may not be able to contend with.

Option #2: Take an extra class and turn the thesis into a report instead
Virtually anyone can sign off on a report, and it's less work too. It's basically a term paper that is extended out (which I've already done with some previous research by the way). I'll have to take a summer course to get out this way though. Seems like a weak/pathetic option out, but at this point I don't care. My goal is graduation, nothing more, nothing less.

Option #3: Forget the thesis, take a couple summer classes, and be done with it
After this spring I'll have 24 credits of "real" classes (ie, lectures, projects, exams, etc.). For a no-thesis/no-report graduation, you need 36 credits, but the very wise and friendly person I met with this morning told me that you only need 30 credits of "real" classes, and that the final 6 credits can be "fudged", as he put it, with conference courses or some other crap. I would have to take two real classes over the summer and employ some help from the department to help me "fake" the other 6 credits, but it is a way out with less flak.

Option #4: Switch to an advisor for "technicality" reasons and avoid a political fiasco
Of course in the ideal case I guess I would want to get rid of my advisor as soon as possible. That's kind of tricky now that I've already completed one thesis course with her, but after discussing things this morning we found a hole. My thesis research right now is really more of a data mining problem than a computer architecture problem, and because I know of a certain data mining professor whose class I took in Fall 2004 and who already knows a little of the work I'm doing, I might be able to get a mutual agreement so that I can switch advisors with no political fallout or hostility.

At this point, I think I'm going to try to go for option #1 and see how my advisor reacts to that. If I get a poor or otherwise unsatisfactory answer, I think option #4 is my next best bet. You know, it's so much easier to graduate when you are an undergrad because all you have to do is take courses, pass them, and then you're done. I wish I could go back a couple years in time and appreciate that back when I had it. Well, we'll just have to see how things go. It's graduation or bust now!


Anonymous Sean said...

Very interesting... I'm glad this person was very wise and friendly. I've not actually talked to him since the day I came to visit the campus before deciding to come here.

A few comments...

Option #1 seems like a better method for doing what I suggested before: Just dig into the work, forget her opinions, and do it. Make sure she gives you a clear view of what she expects. Allies are good, too, especially if they're powerful. =)

Option #2 doesn't sound all that much different from the above. Perhaps the expectations are not as high, though it wouldn't matter if they're still not clear.

I'm rather surprised to hear that the final 6 credits could be fudged in Option #3. Can you be more explicit as to how this would work? It doesn't sound like a bad choice at this point.

As for Option #4, you're lucky to be working on something that another professor would be interested in. And you're lucky to have such good rapport with that other professor. However, you would not want to wait on this for too much if you're graduating in August. You still need to ask and confirm that this person would be agreeable to this "switch."

7:17 PM  
Blogger Tyler Olsen said...

Yeah, I actually also spoke to him late last semester about my neuroscience decision and he gave me a lot of great advice about that as well.

I will make certain that she knows what I intend to do and especially what her expectations are. I'm basically going to say "by agreeing to this you are granting me my pre-approval and won't turn things around on me when it's too late and say that it's not enough". I'm going to be crystal clear that I'm not going to put up with her last-minute bullshit again.

Yeah, I was surprised to hear about "fudging" of credits as well. He basically told me that the university requires those 6 credits, not the department, and that people usually just do conference courses, which (as he said it himself) are basically no work or anything. Which is surprising to hear, since I know a certain someone who was given a B for not doing enough work in a conference course. I guess it just depends on how evil your advisor is, eh?

Yeah, if I'm not satisfied with my current advisor's response and support of this work, I'm going to immediately pursue option #4. After all, this other potential advisor actually gives advice on how to improve work or make it better, and I could certainly use his experience to help me with my thesis work. It will be interesting to see how this develops and I still need to inform my boss at work of my intentions, but I will keep my blog updated with any major events. :)

11:35 AM  
Anonymous phil said...

I know a certain someone who wasn't getting along with their advisor and switched advisors. But this someone also switched research topics/theses, probably not something you could do at the moment. However, it sounds like you wouldn't have to go that far.

Yeah this certain someone was having some health problems, had to go in for surgery, and basically got into an argument with their advisor since the advisor thought his research work (and by extension the student's) should come before the student's health. I think it turned into a shouting match, and even though the door to the office was closed, another professor down the hall (who also had his door closed) could hear what was going on...

Craziness! @_@

2:02 PM  
Anonymous Sean said...


I'm glad that switching advisors didn't kill that certain someone. That makes me realize I didn't have it all that bad, either.

1:06 AM  

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