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  • Writer's pictureLaura Schlater

Choosing a Dissertation Topic

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Photo by Will van Wingerden on Unsplash

As you’ve progressed through your doctoral program, you’ve likely been exploring topic ideas for your dissertation. When you look back, consider: Which classes and subjects truly motivated you? Which ignited a passion you didn’t know you had? What inspired you to get your Ph.D. in the first place?

Whether you’re in your Prospectus course now or looking ahead at your upcoming dissertation months down the line, I’ll share with you some advice I received in my own Prospectus class at Walden University—only half of which I agree with. My instructor urged everyone to just pick a topic and run with it. “It doesn’t have to be your life’s work,” she said. “Just find something you can do quickly to get your degree.” In other words: You can research what you’re passionate about later, when you’re getting paid for it.

Initially, I was horrified. Writing a dissertation was going to be one of the hardest, most stressful, most emotionally and physically exhausting things I would ever do. Why on earth would I want to spend all that time and energy (and money) on something that didn’t fully, completely, unshakably interest me? And why would I want the first published work bearing my name to be on a topic for which I didn’t intend to become known and respected?

But part of her advice was brilliant, and that was this: Don’t choose a topic that will take you years to complete. Dip your toes into the scholarly research pool, get a feel for the process, make your contribution to the field, network with experts, meet similarly minded individuals, yes—but by all means, get it done.

Interested in community college adjunct faculty’s opinions on student preparedness? Don’t create your own survey instrument or seek to obtain a sample large enough and diverse enough to be representative of all community college instructors in the United States. Find an existing survey (one already having validity and reliability) and administer it to a small group of faculty members at a local college to drawn your quantitative results. Opt for a qualitative case study and administer semistructured interviews to a purposefully chosen sample of 12 adjunct instructors. Review historical documents, create your own codes, and draw your own themes.

The point is, there’s plenty of time to think and act on a grander scale later—say, when you’re gainfully employed and someone else is funding your research, when you can share the work with others in your field, and when you have at your disposal a graduate student who can tabulate all your data.

As you’ve been reading and researching these past few years, have any studies drawn your curiosity more than others? Can you build on and advance that researcher’s work? Which topic will help you get the job of your dreams?

What I’m trying to say is: Choose wisely. But also choose practically. You want to take your degree out into the world while you’ve still got the energy to make a difference, and a five-year dissertation isn’t going to do a whole lot for your forward momentum.

Not only that, but you’ll have to replace outdated references with every year that ticks by. Why make even more work for yourself?

I can’t help you choose a dissertation topic—but I can help you ensure your words and formatting are at their very best before you put them in front of your committee. Contact me for dissertation editing help at any stage of the process!

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