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Choosing a Thesis or Dissertation Topic

Deciding on the topic of one’s thesis or dissertation is something to be done with considerable thought. You want to choose a novel topic which will contribute something new to a body of knowledge, but it still must be grounded in existing literature and science. You also want to make sure that your topic will still be relevant, especially when choosing an idea for a dissertation project, when you’ve completed your research several years later. Finally, you should also consider your personal passion for the subject and how your research topic may influence your job outlook after graduation.

 It is also important to have an understanding of the research climate within which you work. Consider the areas of interest among faculty and where there is available funding to support your work. These factors will help guide you toward an appropriate and viable area of research. Also be sure to know the requirements of your institution. Speak to someone at the Graduate Center who can help you understand the timeline of classes, proposals, writing and researching. Keep in mind the specific requirements that are unique to each college or university.

Finally, you should be sure that your research question is manageable. Choose a topic that is not so narrow that it will be hard to generalize to the scientific community, but that is not so broad that you will not be able to successfully answer your research question. And most importantly, choose an area that interests you – one that you can see yourself being dedicated to and immersing yourself in. Remember that you don’t need to go through the decision process alone. Reach out to other graduate students around you, your advisors and other faculty and any other sources of support to make sure that you are doing rewarding work for yourself and the scientific community.

Questions to ask yourself:

  •    What is my general area of interest?
  •    Where are there gaps in the research?
  •    Has someone already successfully answered my research question?
  •    How will I use this research piece in the next step of my career?
  •    What are the faculty here interested in?
  •    Where is there funding available to support my research?
  •    How long will it take?
  •    In order to supplement my research, what classes should I be taking?
  •    Who can I go to for help?

Anne Lasinsky
New England Chapter of ACSM
Choosing a Thesis or Dissertation Topic