FSP has a post up today about advisors who appear to do nothing.
My advisor was not a big hand-holder, as I've discussed before. He also spent a lot more time jetting around the world, attending conferences in tropical/exotic locations than worrying over any snags in my thesis. So what exactly was his contribution to my research?
Well, for one, he had gotten a big industry grant to work with a particular type of contaminant and to do something... environmental to it. I just had to figure out what my project was going to be and how to put everything together to do it. Even though it seemed at the time that I did all the work (after bugging my technical advisor non-stop for advice), I wouldn't have gone anywhere without that financial support and for at least giving me a framework for study.
He didn't produce or even check the data analysis, partially because of time constraints - I ended up with enough raw data for about six projects, but I was out of funding and desperate to get back to my sweetie, so we wrapped up without exploring any interesting side issues. And he was about to retire and perhaps had started checking out mentally/emotionally.
But my thesis (and the journal article that resulted from my research) would never had happened without him. He did enough for me.