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Refining area of interest


ryanmor

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Hey all,

I had a meeting with a member faculty fellowship committee at my school. She is a young asst. prof and a major hot-shot in her field. I meant to discuss with her the applications for a scholarship. After I mentioned I intend to go to graduate school she grilled me about my research interests right there on the spot. I wasn't expecting it and I found that I had the HARDEST time explaining what it is specifically I am interested about in my field. Although I have still a year until I will be applying (currently a junior) it was disheartening to hear that my interests are too broad, will be difficult to fund, and my ideas need work. Needless to say, I left the meeting questioning my ability to succeed in graduate studies. Can anyone fill me in on how to I go about narrowing down my interests? I feel I have a good background in my field, I have significant research experience in an area related to my intended field, but I can't seem relate my idea of research interests into specific topics. Help?

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Can anyone fill me in on how to I go about narrowing down my interests?

Well, it it very hard to tell you how to narrow your interests if we do not know what your interestrs currently are :) You must understand that there is no standard procedure of narrowing interests, there are no common rules for that. Furthermore, only person in your field can really help you with that.

...it was disheartening to hear that my interests are too broad, will be difficult to fund, and my ideas need work

How about reading more works in your field and trying to identify some area that has not been sufficiently studied? Some kind of gap? It's always good to make your research interests about bridging this gap. Make sure that you find some important questions that need answering within your field. Being from another field, my advice cannot go more specific that that :D

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Have you done many conferences where you have presented something? This helped me realize how to be succinct with presenting my research and ideas broadly, but also give me the skills to speak about it's nuances with more specialized listeners.

I might sound crazy but I rehearsed how I was going to talk about my research with people. Conversations, as we all well know, are not rehearsed events, but it did give me a great deal of confidence in not freezing up when people would grill me in meetings. It also gave me a great deal of confidence in taking a bit of charge in interviews and not just sitting there like a sacred bug on a log! You won't sound or look convincing if you are reticent about communicating your ideas.

Peace

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I would advise you to cultivate your interests. You can do that be reading articles and other publications, attending conferences, presenting at conferences if you have the opportunity. The more you get involved in the field, the more you will get a sense of what exactly it is that you really want to do. musicforfun makes an excellent point about talking about your interests, the more you communicate them, the more you will visualize them in your own mind and the more concrete they will become to you. It helps if you can find people who are interested in the same field as you and just talk with them about your common interests.

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  • 3 weeks later...

I don't think you have to worry about narrowing down your interests just yet. I worked on 2 completely unrelated research projects as an undergraduate. The first one looked at the environmental impact on sex determination in an aquatic fern, and the second one looked at the effects of multiple pollen donors on the reproductive success of a flowering plant. Since I had no idea what I wanted to do, I spent my first semester in graduate school rotating between three labs. I didn't even know if I wanted to work in a molecular or an ecology lab!! All I knew is that I wanted to work with plants - that's it!! The rotations REALLY helped channel me toward what I loved doing most. Now I'm in my second year and I just selected my thesis topic at the beginning of the semester. It deals with climate change and community ecology - nothing even remotely related to my undergraduate research! So don't stress over narrowing down your research interests. Applying to graduate school is stressful enough! Just try to enjoy your senior year and your life as an undergraduate student! :)

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