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Just how hard is it to have an original idea?


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I'm a second-year MA student in Classics at UIUC. I'm applying to MAR/MTS programs at seminaries this year (an POSSIBLY Ph.D. programs). I'm concerned about research, etc. I've not done much research, having had to focus on coursework, which is very much to my detriment. I guess I just have some concerns about getting in places without really having published anything, or even really done any research.

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The answer to the question in your subject line is that you don't need an original idea necessarily. It could just be a new way of looking at something or applying a different theory to a text than has been done before.

As far as publishing, I did a two year MA, wrote a MA thesis, and am now in the second year of my PhD (at a different institution). I haven't published yet and probably won't even submit anything until summer 2010, at the absolute earliest.

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Gotta love that.

Ugh, I know.

The OP seems to be pointing to two sorts of questions, the body of the text asks (1) "How important is past research to get in?" and the topic seems to ask (2) "how do you come up with an idea for research?"

(1) I've been stalking the CVs of philosophy grad students at a range of places, and there seem to be both people with undergrad/ma research as well as no undergrad/ma research.

(2) If you're really struggling for an idea, carefully look over the conclusions of some papers you like. They tend to point out unanswered questions. My conference presentation came from unabashedly taking one of those questions and answering it (of course, be sure to mention where it's coming from).

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Religion is not something known for original ideas. You guys all rehash the same old shit over and over, but with different phrasing and analogies. No one at a religious institution has had an original idea for centuries. Just see how many times you can rephrase Paley's watchmaker argument.

My friend, I guess you're not familar with religion, are you ? It's one thing to be secular (like myself) and not believe in anything. It's abolutely another to say that there isn't anything new coming up in religion. The fact is that religion has been studied long before any of the "hard" sciences and will probably still be here after the academia will find a new bon-ton science and leave chemistry behing.

I dunno, maybe I'm way off base here, but coming from someone studying chemistry and stuff that is real, it's hard for me to take seriously someone worrying about an original idea while studying religion.

Are you aware of a small field called the philosophy of science ? How nothing is really real (except for mathematics) being that the ideas, methods, as well as the scientific tools, are all based on a few persumptions ?

and by the way - no need to be arrogant. if you were as secure in your field as you would like to seem, you would have no problem with people in other fields talking about original ideas and struggling.

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I worried for a long time about this issue--I didn't think of myself as an original person, I guess. Then I asked my dad (who has quite a few published papers) how he got his ideas. His response:

Read the literature. Read, read, read. As you read, ask questions: Are there any problems with this person's approach? Could there be other conclusions which would explain the same data? Etc. This really helped me A LOT and I started thinking of things I could do for my thesis...

We were talking about chemistry, of course, but I know enough about religion to say that the same approach could apply to your field...

Certainly it wouldn't hurt to start reading the literature in your field ASAP. After all, when you go to schools to meet with prospective advisors, they'll probably want to talk about specifics.

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Someone posted the below link in another section of forum. I think jmbky1 has single-handedly earned whatever school he goes to at least an honorable mention on the list. Way to go jmbky1.

http://men.style.com/gq/features/landin ... tent_10779

Yeah you're right. I guess I should closely monitor my forum browsing while drinking. My bad bros. I don't want to make enemies here so I apologize for coming across as a douche.

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  • 1 year later...

It depends on field.

I'm in a field where I have gigantic amounts of original ideas - some which work, some which don't work. The most challenging part is the implementation, which is what I'm weak at.

I do get the sense that it's A LOT harder to get original ideas in math/physics/chem as compared to other "more open" fields.

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  • 2 weeks later...

i had really good research questions. so good, in fact, that i got a multiyear national fellowship to work on them. and then, after doing my exploratory fieldwork, i discover that my sources are not there. or, rather, that one half of my project is now not doable, and the other half will not point to any particularly surprising or field-changing findings. they'd be fine in an article at a mid-tier journal, but not in a dissertation.

so i get to start over. i've always struggled with research designs. asked questions that my sources can't completely answer, let the framework get a little unwieldy or unclear. now i've got this set of data and i have to look through it and ask... "what does this tell me?" then reverse-engineer the research question from there. in some ways, it feels like cheating, but this is actually how most of the projects in my field (history) are created. find the data, then ask the question. and, somehow, it still has to be original, the answers have to be unexpected, otherwise what's the point in doing the project if it simply confirms what you already know? and it can't be a negative finding (i.e. "this didn't happen, even though i thought it would").

that's where i think the sciences get off a lot easier. if the result of your research is "this didn't work," that's still okay. that's still publishable. and, depending on your field, you can create new data sets, run new tests. all i've got is what archivists thought would be useful to save.

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Ask a lot of questions as you begin your studies. I always start with the literature. I read articles and books about topics that I found interesting and tore them up. It's always good to think about the bigger picture while trying to come up with a topic. So while reading in my field I usually ask:

What is their approach? Is it feasible? Did he/she provide substantial evidence? What questions didn't they ask? Can a comparative study be done? What does this mean within our field? Sometimes the authors will come right out and say that some areas need scholarly attention. In know in the Humanities this usually appears either in the preface or introduction to a book.

One point to remember is that it's okay if you're lost! It means you're on your way to somewhere... Just don't let yourself be stuck! After enough reading and asking questions a research topic should emerge.

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