Some people go into their doctoral program with a clear idea of what they want to study and never waver from it; others have a vague sense of what they want their topic to be, and then fine-tune it; still others go in with some idea, and then end up focusing on a completely different topic altogether. All of these scenarios are completely fine.

But what if you’re completely lost and don’t know what to study or where to begin?

First, take a deep breath. Plenty of students have been there. It’s going to be okay. You might be thinking, “How am I going to choose the Right Topic?” Good news: there is no one Right Topic! The “in” that’s making headlines right now will likely be long forgotten by the time your program is done and your dissertation is shelved. Besides, if it’s a popular topic, your dissertation will be one of many on the same subject.

Choose something that interests you. Find a general topic that piques your interest, and do some reading. Look at some important problems within that general topic, and see if anything speaks to you. What questions are being brought up? Where is the research leading, and what areas need further research? Where is the gap in the literature? (Check out our blog post on this topic here). Why is it important? Simply put, why should anyone care about your topic, and what is your research going to bring to the table?

Helpful Tips

Read. Read everything and anything you can in your field. Read peer-reviewed journals, follow social media pages of research institutions you admire and who do work in your field, and read trade magazines and books – you never know where you might get inspiration, a lead on sources, or new ideas.

Go to departmental seminars and guest lectures. You’ll hear about new ideas, meet innovators in your field, and learn about upcoming research.

Talk with your professors about your research and what they’re working on. Listen to what your fellow cohort members are working on, and discuss ideas with each other. Sometimes a simple brainstorming session can yield a new way of looking at your research, or even an “aha!” moment.

If you’re overwhelmed with choosing a research topic, or you have several ideas and leads but aren’t sure where to go from here, contact us today! We have dissertation coaches who can set up one-on-one consultations with you to talk through your ideas, help you narrow down several topics, and provide you with guidance. While we can’t tell you what to choose or what to study, we can certainly be a sounding board for your exploration, help you determine which of your ideas are viable, and otherwise provide structure and guidance with what can feel like an amorphous and insurmountable task.
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