How do I determine my dissertation topic?

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Universities require that doctoral students prepare a disseration for several reasons. Because the dissertation serves as one of final hurdles prior to receiving a doctoral award, careful consideration should be given to choosing a topic. The dissertation highlights the student's ability to think critically, purposefully express a position on the selected topic, and defend that position. It allows the student to show his/her ability to perform a complex, challenging project without using other faculty as a crutch; UNC's Writing Center notes that the disseration "marks the transition from student to scholar." Ideally, a dissertation should broaden the knowledge of the academic community, not just rehash what has already been said.

Casual discussions with faculty members on advice for dissertation topics may seem to fit into two broad categories: 1. The dissertation doesn't have to be interesting, it just has to be well done because its purpose is to let you graduate and to get a job. In this case, the dissertation topic is secondary. 2. The dissertations is the best chance at producing good, publishable work so make it count. In this case, the dissertation topic and quality are crucial decisions.

With either approach, it seems clear that the dissertation is an important opportunity to develop key skills and topic expertise. With this in mind, at least three considerations about the dissertation topic are important:

  1. That you find the topic interesting, and
  2. That there are at least a subset of academics that find this topic interesting, and
  3. That the topic has future research potential (i.e. the area is not dead or dying).

External Links

  • Grad School Rule #10 - This page is from the orgtheory blog and offers advice on choosing a dissertation topic.
  • Wikipedia - Wikipedia offers a brief explanation of disserations and their purposes.
  • UNC's Writing Center - This page provides a comprehensive analysis and explanation of dissertations and the steps involved in successfully completing this step in a graduate program.

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