You are ready to do a doctorate. You have considered the investment of your time and energy, mulling over the decision for months, maybe years. You are a life-long learner and about to take that next giant step in your career.
Yet, you still have that one big nagging question – how do I decide on my research topic?
Here are six things to consider as you get started:
What drives you?
At the centre of your doctorate is your dissertation. Your dissertation is more than the words and pages you will write; it will become your baby. You will love it and be so proud of it, but sometimes that baby will have colic, and you will be begging for it to take a nap.
So, how do you hang in there on the hard days? Love it from the start. Ask yourself what interests you.
What subjects are you passionate about? If you were to awake at 5 am to write before your day starts or curl up in bed at night with a research paper, what would hold your attention?
Who are you?
Think of your skills and support system.
A doctorate involves a steep learning curve. Consider easing the process by selecting a field or subject matter with which you are familiar. What do you know, and what are you good at? Do you have any expertise?
As you consider your topic, think about how you would conduct and analyse your research. What sort of data do you have access to? Do you have support from your employer? Could you leverage your network?
Why do you want a doctorate?
Although well deserved, the doctoral degree is about a lot more than the title. It could be a trampoline to get you to the next step in your career.
Are you looking to transition to academia or gain a tenured track position? Do you want to move into consulting? Are you using your recognised expertise to fast-track to a senior management position or get a promotion?
To determine your topic, ask yourself why you are doing a doctorate and how the topic will help you get there. Can you take the research skills, critical thinking, and theoretical knowledge you gain and apply it to your desired career?
Ask the experts
Ask those who are doing a doctorate! Look to others in the field. Go to conferences. Start building your network now.
Look at the career paths of those you admire. Find research articles that inspire you and find out more about the researchers. Check ResearchGate and LinkedIn. Dig through the university websites and databases.
Ask those who know you best – get feedback and support from your friends and family. You will need their help along the way. Most importantly, listen to yourself. You are the expert of your own life.
Develop your idea
First, read up! Pick a few articles from free sources such as Google Scholar, ResearchGate or academia.edu. Learn about different research methodologies others have used and imagine how you would apply them.
How might you build upon existing knowledge? Can you use a theory and identify managerial or business problems? How does this problem fit into a field of study?
Start writing! Hash out a couple of paragraphs about what you understand of the existing state of knowledge on a topic. Try using an academic style and common referencing techniques such as APA. This will give you the confidence you need to get started.
Identify your contribution
Think about how you can add value. What impact will your research make? You do not want to write something that will sit on a shelf unread. How will your research improve managerial or business practices?
Consider the context. Think about how and from where you would need to collect data. This may limit you to a certain country or industry. Alternatively, your research may solve a problem that can be applied broadly across geographies or industries.
Start to frame your research question so that it is meaningful and will have impact while staying narrow enough to be attainable. Most importantly, keep it interesting.
So, now take a breath. A doctoral programme is a marathon, not a sprint. Your topic will develop and re-develop over the course of your academic journey and with the help of an experienced supervisor. However, if you have given these points some thought in advance, you will make the most of that relationship from day one.
Asking the right questions will help you identify your passion, your resources, and your goals. This will help you broaden or narrow your research question by considering different contexts and will give you satisfaction and drive to make an impact on your organisation, your field, or community.
This article is republished from LinkedIn with the permission of the author.