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How did you figure out your research interest(s)?

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Hey y'all!

I'm currently applying to Clinical Psychology PhD programs for Fall 2021 admissions. This will be my first time every going through the application cycle, so yes, I'm very excited and very nervous :D Here's my conundrum though, I'm still not sure about my research interests. I just graduated from with my MA in Psychology this Spring, so I have had 2 years of 'official' psychology experience, if you may, and while I thoroughly enjoyed every core class I took (biopsych, ethics, cognitive, stats, etc), I'm still not sure about what exactly I want to research for the next 5 years... Almost every topic seems so exciting to pursue! And it's like this buffet where I want to eat everything (I mean, try every kind of sub topic haha). So, my main question is, how did you discover or get to know what exactly you want research? How did you know that a specific sub-field was 'the one' for you?

Any advice or perspective will be really appreciated! Thanks y'all!

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Hey there.  If you have your MA, that means you did a Masters thesis, right? Was that a topic that you were super interersted in? What other research experiences have you had, and how might those shape your future research?

It's all interesting, but at some point we have to figure out what we are really passionate about, that made us want to do the particular branch of psychology to begin with.  Why do you want to do a Clinical PhD? Is there a particular population you want to work with, or a certain diagnosis you want to specialize in? 

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I would start doing some reflective journaling about what you hope to accomplish as a researcher or scientist or clinician. Who do you want to help? What do you think is the most important question to ask? What do you envision yourself doing in 10, 15, 20 years? 

Also - do you have a good mentor that you could talk to about this? 

I definitely agree that all of psychology is fascinating, and there are a lot of areas I could probably be happy researching. BUT there is only one area that I am fired up about, that I feel compelled to research to better the world, and that I never get tired of learning about. Also keep in mind that fit is probably one of the most important parts of PhD applications. If you are wishy-washy or too general, it might show in your statements. 

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Although I think I'm intrested in mots areas and like learning about them, I do think I have research questions that are predominantly best answered in a certain area? Like a lot of things are intersting, but there are certain topics I keep gravitating to in terms of questions that I formulate.

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When I teach a first-year doctoral seminar I have my students do an activity. I have them write ten "I wonder" questions every week...I wonder whether...I wonder how...I wonder why. At first, I tell them don't even worry about the topic. You can say, "I wonder whether my dog knows when I come home from work." It can be just anything. However, these tend to converge around a topic area in their field/sub-field.

I also encourage them to ask these questions when reading academic articles. Think about what you might do if you conducted the study--what would you ask that is different? What would you want to follow up on?

For those who are in a tighter timeline (like trying to decide a research interest in a few months), I might increase the frequency of these questions to 5-10 a day instead of 10 a week. Keep a journal of them. Both the content and the form (e.g., asking whether vs. how) will be telling regarding both your research interests and the epistemic frame with which you will approach your work.

Best of luck!

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My field is 19th-century American lit, so it's obviously different. However, for me, it took one class and one professor to really see what field in English/lit I wanted to research.

I agree with @Randi S. If you did your MA thesis, look into that and see what you were passionate about. 

 

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I agree with a lot of the advice on this thread! Self-reflection is definitely key. It can be daunting at times to think about projects you might want to do in the future, so I'd recommend starting with projects you've done in the past. This includes research studies as well as term papers for class, projects for fun, etc. Think of broad keywords describing each venture-- are there some that repeat more than others? Personally, I found that I had almost always chosen topics related to a handful of keywords (emotion, self, etc.), which led me to solidify my interests. 

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Sorry for the delayed response, but thank you so much everyone. The ideas here really help me a lot, seriously. Thank you!!! I'm looking forward to this internal fun work haha

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