The agony of choice: Find the right doctoral thesis

The agony of choice: Find the right Ph.D. topic 9 months ago

About 25,000 doctoral students complete their doctorates in Germany every year. Behind them lie several years of intensive research on a topic in which they finally enter uncharted scientific territory themselves. Therefore, every doctoral project stands or falls with the topic choice. But how do you find the perfect dissertation topic? Four questions that you should ask yourself before starting your research:

1. Does the topic suit me?

A doctorate is hard work. Researching, reading, collecting notes, collecting data, analyzing and evaluating, and finally: writing, writing, writing. All of this will be the subject of a three to five-year process every day. To successfully master this mammoth project requires personal motivation and perseverance. The most unscientific but most important question is, therefore: Which topic am I enthusiastic about? And: Can I imagine spending several years researching this topic? In most cases, the subject-related framework has already been determined by the preceding bachelor’s and master’s programs. Within this area of expertise, it is then necessary to find a research question that interests you personally and has not yet been sufficiently researched. Even if science is mostly a matter of the mind: When choosing a topic, you can also rely on your gut feeling. Research rarely follows an indisputable roadmap. Unforeseen changes of direction are just as important as long nights in archives, laboratories or desks. Identification with your own doctoral thesis helps to master such times successfully. Therefore, you should take the time to find a topic in different topics and finally select a topic that really interests you. Possibly, the doctoral thesis topic can also be linked to a topic that has already been more intensively incorporated into the Bachelor’s or Master’s degree program. For example, many students make the decision to expand their master’s thesis topic into a doctoral thesis.

2. What career prospects do I expect from working on the topic?

The doctorate is the first opportunity for young scientists to (really) scientifically profile themselves. The choice of topics should therefore also be linked to the question of one’s own future plans. Not infrequently, scientists stay true to their dissertation topics even after completing their doctorate and continue their research in the respective subject area. On the other hand, anyone who aspires to pursue a career in the private sector may well have the best prerequisites with a practice-relevant topic. The choice of topic also plays a not insignificant role in the financial security of the doctorate. For example, companies and scholarship providers offer specific topics. But even if the choice of topics is entirely up to you, the following applies: If you are enthusiastic about the topic, you will be more convincing in front of potential supporters, thus increasing your chances of financing the doctoral project.

3. Is the topic within the given framework feasible?

A clearly delineated contextual and methodological framework is the alpha and omega for the success of the dissertation. Promoting is primarily about building bridges between existing theories and new insights. And even if the scope of a doctoral thesis significantly exceeds that of a master’s thesis: in order to be able to go into depth in terms of content, the topic should by no means be over-broad. Otherwise, there is a risk that the project cannot be managed within the prescribed timeframe. For example, a well-founded restriction to a specific data source and quantity helps to avoid being bogged down in the research process. After all, it is important for the doctoral thesis to systematically and systematically approach the research question. And although the dissertation aims to develop one’s own novel ideas, a nearly unexplored topic is as unsuitable as one that has already been addressed in the form in other research. The trick is to find a topic where you can access enough available literature and still have enough room for your own conclusions. Finally, one should also consider the question of whether a suitable supervisor can be found for working with this topic.

4. Who can help me with the topic selection?

Whether at the university, in the circle of friends or colleagues or in expert forums on the Internet: there are numerous opportunities to get ideas on possible topics. In conversation with other doctoral candidates, for example, quite often new ideas are created to find a topic. Professors can also point out possible research directions. In general, a research network only harms those who do not. Keeping eyes and ears open and actively seeking to share experiences with experts creates the best conditions for making the right topic. Ideas can be found, for example, on the science platform Thesius. Thesius has a forum and a thematic database where companies and research communities regularly publish proposals for topics.