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How did you discover your research interests?

2 posts in this topic

I'm about to finish my first year in a Psychology PhD program. Since starting the program, I've been doing some research on a topic that was related to my undergrad research, but it's time for me to start moving in a new direction, and I'm not sure how to figure out what I want to research. My advisor is very flexible and keeps encouraging me to explore something I'm interested in, but I'm so used to people just telling me what to research that I'm not even sure what I'm passionate about. I've also been a bit anxious and depressed dealing with the pressures of grad school so it's been particularly difficult to identify things that interest me. 

What can I do to help narrow my interests? There are a lot of things in my area of psychology that I find compelling, but I can't decide which ones I'm the most interested in. I know I don't have to figure out my whole career trajectory in this moment, but I'm having trouble just deciding on my next move. 

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I’ve always thought that becoming acquainted with the literature in your area is always the first step to develop your research interests and hopefully, by the end of graduate school, a research program.


Now that takes time, though. I have 11 folders with potential PhD dissertation topics that I left unfinished (maybe I’ll start working on them in the future, who knows) before I found “the one”. And I think “the one” usually comes with a question from you or some sort of realization that there’s this area that has gone vastly unexplored or maybe people are looking into it but you have a different idea of how to go about it. Like, you say there are many areas in your field that you find interesting. Pick maybe a few of those many and ask yourself a question that you’re interested in. See who has looked into this and how. Then try making it more specific and keep going until you find an area for you to start doing research and develop. If by the time you’ve got to that level of specificity you no longer find the area compelling or it’s become plain boring, then maybe move on to the next.


I honestly feel the majority of us go at this via trial-and-error so I wouldn’t be too worried about not having very defined research interests at this stage.

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