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how to narrow down your research interests


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Okay, it seems that you're supposed to have a specific research idea or a lab figured out when applying for PhD, but in my case, I had a very broad research experience & education during undergrad and it also doesn't help that I'm super indecisive and inquisitive. I applied based on my previous research background rather than research I would like to pursue [which is ill advised I know] and got into a couple programs (both PhD and masters). I've been perusing through many scientific journals, but it's only making me get excited about research areas in my field that sound incredibly interesting. If you had personally struggled with this and could impart some wisdom on how you went about choosing what you are researching now, any tips would be greatly appreciated. Also, what are your thoughts on choosing a research area that you have not had much exposure to during undergrad? Thanks a lot!

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I haven't started my program yet, but I'm in the same boat as you.


I would say it's definitely acceptable to have a diversity in topics that you are interested in. I don't think anyone expects you to go into a PhD application/program and detail exactly what your dissertation will be on.


I am like you in that I don't have a clear idea about what I want to focus on and from all the discussions I've had with professors, they said that was not a bad thing at all.


Think of it like this - if you go into your program with an open mind, you'll be able to gain as much exposure to different subfields and topics as possible. You're not limited in the sense that you've already narrowed down your focus and who knows, you might even find a topic you love that you didn't even know existed! If you're excited by the research in your field from reading scientific journals, that's definitely a good sign. Hopefully you'll find something that truly captures your interest, but until then, keep reading those journals and staying open minded.

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  • 4 weeks later...

While it's okay to be interested in a lot of things, you do need to have a specific area of focus to be admitted to a program to work with a PI. So basically, what you do is you just pick whichever one seems the most interesting and what you feel like you can work on for the next 5-6 years, and concentrate on that one. That is essentially what I did - I have a lot of different, varied interests, and I just pick one for stretches of time that make sense.

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