How to choose your PhD research topic

How to choose your PhD research topic

Choosing a PhD research topic is one of the most important decisions you can make when starting a doctorate. This is the topic you will be engulfed in for at least three years. It is the one thing that you need to be interested in to guide you through the days that are rough, when you want to quit and just can’t take it anymore. It is the topic that you really want to answer some questions about and to make a contribution to the scientific field. It has to be motivated by curiosity and it will become the reason you wake up in the morning.

There may also be additional reasons for choosing a particular topic. There may be a passion for research to gain knowledge and develop understanding. Or to be intellectually challenged and guided by a world expert in your field. For most people, a variety of reasons are present. Some candidates have already been involved in a research project that can be easily turned into a PhD project or a project is being offered with a topic already created with funding provided and the benefit of collaborating with a wide range of organisations and experts.

The biggest difficulty, whatever the starting point, is to make sure that the topic will continue to motivate during the next three or four years. In reality, at some point you will question whether you chose the right topic. This is part of the process. The PhD process is a roller coaster of emotions and there are days when you will hate it despite the love of the topic you had initially. Although it is important that the topic chosen has been selected based on interest rather than just the interest of a supervisor or just to get a PhD, there are a variety of issues that will impact on the completion of the thesis.

Besides the interest required in the topic, the topic must be viable as a PhD project. Most candidates start their candidature with over ambitious projects and find it hard to choose their specific research question. The overall topic must be turned into a manageable research question. The job of a supervisor is to help the candidate to direct their topic into ‘bite size pieces’. But how do you turn your interest into a specific question that can be answered and tested in real life?

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You need to remember that a PhD requires flexibility, patience and humility. It is a fluid process as the research question can change during the course of your project, depending on what is found, how successful the data collection is and how the project is progressing. Even if the funding body has set the research question, the methods used to gather the data can be changed. The topic has to be kept at a manageable level, understanding that it is a process to gather knowledge on something that little is known about. It allows for growth and intellectual challenge. There will also be many obstacles during the project which requires flexibility. Perhaps the method you chose to collect the data is simply not feasible or too expensive, the apparatus you were counting on using cannot be accessed in time or you can’t contact those that manage its use. You may have wanted to compare three sites but could only access two or the weather has destroyed a site and you can’t access it. Being flexible in these cases requires intellectual strength.

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Part 2 of How to Pick Your Defense Committee

Part 2 of How to Pick Your Defense Committee

Choosing a committee can be a daunting task for a doctoral student.  We’ve already covered two strategies that can help you through this process. 

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7 Things Students Should Know About Internships

7 Things Students Should Know About Internships

Whether you’re thinking of applying to grad programs or you’re in the thick of internship applications, being aware of these seven points can save you some heartache when applying for an internship or practicum.

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Part 1 of How to Pick Your Defense Committee

Part 1 of How to Pick Your Defense Committee

So you’re ready to pick your committee members; there are a few things to keep in mind first—after all, it is a 3–6 year process. It is essential that doctoral students take the time to reflect on who they will choose to guide and mentor them through the doctoral process and to eventually determine whether they have earned the degree. It should be said that I come from a social science background, so my perspective is tailored to my particular field, but the strategies I discuss in this series of posts can really be applied to any academic background. There is a lot to talk about so let’s start with the first two guidelines.

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5 Easy Things To Do Before Your Interview

5 Easy Things To Do Before Your Interview

Everybody knows that interviewing for a graduate or post-graduate position involves prep work. You want to be sure to effectively communicate that you are a polished, serious candidate. In addition to preparing your answers to expected questions, you may need to practice a job talk, teaching demonstration, or give an informal summary of your previous work. However, you can make that work a little easier by following these simple tips. For all you academic job hunters, also check out this article on the cardinal sins of interviewing.

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Starting 2016 Off Strong: Self-Care in the New Year

Starting 2016 Off Strong: Self-Care in the New Year

It’s January, which means for most of us, that it’s time to take down the holiday decorations and get back to the grind.

For me—and I’m sure for a lot of you, too—it feels like I never had a break from the grind. With work, classes, and the holidays all placing demands on my time and attention, I’ve felt a little overwhelmed, like I’ve been trying to keep afloat in a sea of final papers and wrapping paper.

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Jsulli214
To me, an important part of managing self-care is managing stress. While that is a big category, with a lot of possibilities, a fe... Read More
Sunday, 07 February 2016 10:48
Jsulli214
Fiddlesticks. Can I edit this? The line "I not only make the best use of time, though, in addition to feeling in control, is activ... Read More
Sunday, 07 February 2016 10:52
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Intro To Series on How to Pick Your Defense Committee

Intro To Series on How to Pick Your Defense Committee

Choosing the right defense committee can potentially be the difference between a smooth transition of receiving your doctoral degree or dodging bullets in an all-out civil war. Hyperbole aside, I’ve been particularly lucky with picking my defense committee members. However, I’ve had colleagues who have struggled, so it’s easy to be on either side of this tough choice. As a new blogger to this site, I wanted to contribute to other great blog posts here and here, so I thought I’d create a series about important decision for grad students.

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eilidee
good guide, I will take into account. I am committed to helping students, if there are questions, then write https://domymathhome... Read More
Thursday, 16 August 2018 02:11
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Introducing Stephanie and Her Road Map to Grad School

Introducing Stephanie and Her Road Map to Grad School

My name is Stephanie, and I'm working on my Masters of Science in Counseling (LPC) at SMU. I've taken a somewhat indirect path to graduate school. In fact, my undergraduate degree is in Writing & Rhetoric. I was especially interested in editing and creative nonfiction, but I often felt like I was on a road trip without a map--like I wasn't moving towards a meaningful destination. I finally had to admit to myself that I was interested in working with people and their stories on a deeper level than I could reach through editing and writing.

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Jsulli214
Hi Stephanie! Glad to be on this journey in your cohort. My own story is leaving behind a life spent in 33, 34 really, years of en... Read More
Saturday, 26 December 2015 10:22
sgrogan
Hi Jsulli214--good to hear from you! It definitely takes courage to trade a successful career to go down a new route and follow yo... Read More
Monday, 28 December 2015 13:22
Jsulli214
I had to think about what self-care really is. For my last year of work, and first year of school, grad school WAS my self-care. T... Read More
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3 Holiday Tips for Graduate Students

3 Holiday Tips for Graduate Students

Is Thanksgiving really only two days away?! If this is your first semester as a graduate student, you are in for a treat or two with the holidays coming up. Not knowing what to expect, you might be feeling nervous, excited, anxious, or a combination of these and other emotions. On the other hand, you might be as cool as a cucumber. Either way, your holidays as a graduate student will look a little different than they did when you were an undergrad or an industry professional. Here are things you should know about this holiday season as a grad student:

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Welcome to the PhDStudent Blogosphere, Ryan!

Welcome to the PhDStudent Blogosphere, Ryan!

My name is Ryan, and I am currently in my final year of graduate school in the Public Policy and Political Economy doctoral program at the University of Texas at Dallas. My policy focus is on international development with an area specialty in Latin America and the Caribbean issues. However, I do find myself looking to Africa to see what development trends seem to be working there. I am fascinated with the intersection of politics and economics and how they relate to the development trajectories of countries abroad. I am currently in All But Dissertation status and am in the final stages of writing my dissertation with hopes to defend by January 2016. My dissertation is about how to conceptualize and measure rule of law in a new way and to systematically test what factors predict this conception of rule of law in a global data set.

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9 Reasons Why I Miss Being in Grad School

9 Reasons Why I Miss Being in Grad School

It’s now been two years since I walked across the stage, shook the administrators’ hands, and received my doctorate degree. I remember thinking, “Yes, I did it!” Things were looking up for me, I had a job lined up, I was a new mom, and finally free from school and all the unpleasant things associated with it (like sitting in seminar meetings). Two years later, I have a much different perspective than I did back then. Below, I’ve outlined nine things that I miss about being in grad school. If you're in grad school, my advice is be grateful for what you've got while it lasts.

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Why You Shouldn't Email Your Advisor Back Right Away

Why You Shouldn't Email Your Advisor Back Right Away

Grad students have a hard time keeping the lines between school and home separate. When your advisor finally emails you back, it feels like you need to be ready no matter what you’re doing. However, given what we know about work-nonwork conflict, grad students should proceed with caution.

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3 Things You Can Do to Boost Your Academic Performance

3 Things You Can Do to Boost Your Academic Performance

Grad students are plagued by self-doubt and wonder if they’ll make it through the week—let alone the semester. When everyone else seems to be doing well, it’s easy to believe that you’re the only one struggling. In reality, these feelings get to everyone whether they’ll admit it or not. Research shows us, however, that there are simple things that you can do to improve study habits, grades, and even motivation for learning.

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statswork
motivational ,thanks for sharing your words.
Tuesday, 22 September 2015 03:12
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Time Management: How Your Scheduling Style Affects Well-Being

Time Management: How Your Scheduling Style Affects Well-Being

Grad school will test your time management skills. You won’t be able to graduate without successfully scheduling and completing events. But did you know that your preference for planning your day can have long-lasting implications on your psychological well-being?

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8 Dos and Don’ts About Note-Taking in Grad School

8 Dos and Don’ts About Note-Taking in Grad School

In a previous post, I wrote about a few general strategies to use while taking notes in graduate school.  Those methods included digitally and manually taking notes and the pros and cons of each.  With this second post, I wanted to provide a short list of tips for taking notes while in grad school.  These will help you hone your note-taking skills and become more organized with your school work.

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