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PhD Research Topic

microscopeStudents wishing to embark on a PhD will often nominate a particular field in which they are interested and they may even have a specific research topic in mind. Whatever the case, it is absolutely vital that the research project which they ultimately embark on will be something which will be of importance to them and which they will feel passionately about. Without such a level of motivation it will be difficult to sustain the hard effort and commitment required during the several years needed to complete their thesis.

In order to qualify for the award of a PhD it is necessary for a student to show originality and make a substantial contribution to learning in their chosen field. The choice of topic is therefore crucial, and the following questions should be borne in mind when the selection is being made:

  • Is the proposed topic worth researching and will it lead to significant new knowledge and a PhD? This needs to be discussed with your potential or actual supervisor.
  • Is it possible to find a supervisor who knows the field and will be able to provide an appropriate level of support and guidance? Good supervision is absolutely vital in gaining a PhD.
  • Will the research project be manageable within three years or is it too ambitious and in need of radical pruning?
  • Does the topic lie between academic disciplines? If so, it is necessary to be aware that such research can be more risky and that there can be significant problems of supervision, writing up and thesis examination.

Recommendations

It is crucial at the start of a PhD project to select an appropriate research topic. This should be something that you care very much about, but at the same time it should provide a research project which is practicable and stands a good chance of leading to a PhD. Before finally selecting your topic, therefore, you should discuss your proposals with potential supervisors and with students who are already embarked on their projects. It would also be very valuable to carry out a careful study of the literature in the field, search the web and attend any relevant conferences and meetings.

Further Information

For further information about selecting a research topic see:

Finding a Thesis Topic by Marie desJardins
Finding a Thesis Topic or Formulating a Research Plan (University of Waikato)
General Advice about Finding a Thesis Topic (Boston University)
 
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Page last modified: 20 June 2011
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