Adelaide9216

Choosing a topic?

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Hello,

let's say I have a very good research topic in mind for a PhD thesis. I have noticed that there is no written work on this topic in the Canadian context. is it still a "good" topic to have even if most of the written work about it has been in other parts of the world? 

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It's hard to tell from this information. Maybe. You should talk to an advisor. People starting out in a PhD program tend to think it's good to work on a topic that doesn't have any literature in it. I would challenge that way of thinking. You want to engage in a conversation with others; you want to work on a topic that others care about -- if for no other reason than you want to be accepted to conferences and published, and for that you need people to think your topic is important and interesting. You also want to be relevant when it comes time to find a job. If no one is interested in what you are doing, you'll have a harder time explaining why anyone should care and hire you. So, if there is literature in general and there's a clear case to be made about why a Canadian case study is interesting, that's one thing. If no one is doing it for some other reason, then that's a different story. So bottom line, you need to talk to someone who knows more about your field. Like your advisor. (And if you're a first-year, or not even that, you need to keep an open mind and remember that your interests might -- and should -- develop while you're in the program. So this might all be premature.)

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I agree that it might be a little premature. But the reason why I am asking is that I am applying next year, so I am starting to consider different options. Also, I am known in my community for the speeches I give on mental health and mental illness. So I am considering working on a specific area of mental health and mental illness since that's what I am already known for. 

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On 4/2/2017 at 3:46 PM, Adelaide9216 said:

I have noticed that there is no written work on this topic in the Canadian context. is it still a "good" topic to have even if most of the written work about it has been in other parts of the world? 

I'm learning the hard way (i.e. personal experience) that the leading edge can be the bleeding edge if one's jumping too afar ahead of existing works done by established scholars.

HTH

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1 hour ago, Sigaba said:

I'm learning the hard way (i.e. personal experience) that the leading edge can be the bleeding edge if one's jumping too afar ahead of existing works done by established scholars.

HTH

Sorry, I am not sure I understood this, could you clarify for me? 

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1 hour ago, Adelaide9216 said:

Sorry, I am not sure I understood this, could you clarify for me? 

It's more difficult to frame a new scholarly debate than to advance an existing scholarly debate, even for very accomplished academics.

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31 minutes ago, Sigaba said:

It's more difficult to frame a new scholarly debate than to advance an existing scholarly debate, even for very accomplished academics.

Thank you for your insight. I'm glad I've joined this forum very early in my graduate studies because I learn a lot from all of you. 

So if I understand well, I should pick a research topic that make me "employable" sort of? Especially if I want a career in academia? 

 

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4 minutes ago, Adelaide9216 said:

Thank you for your insight. I'm glad I've joined this forum very early in my graduate studies because I learn a lot from all of you. 

So if I understand well, I should pick a research topic that make me "employable" sort of? Especially if I want a career in academia? 

 

I would recommend that you find an intellectually, psychologically, and economically sustainable balance between your ambition and your understanding of your limitations in the near term.

Assume that you're going to produce work that advances your field. Maybe see your master's thesis as a first step on a decades' long journey. 

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The thing is that I get numerous media interview requests to talk about mental health and mental illness and everytime, I feel like I do not know enough on the topic to be called an "expert" on it, other than being an expert of my own experience and journey. That's why I want to do a PhD on that topic. I feel like there is always something missing in the interviews that I give.

Edited by Adelaide9216

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On 8/21/2017 at 6:26 PM, Adelaide9216 said:

So if I understand well, I should pick a research topic that make me "employable" sort of? Especially if I want a career in academia? 

 

On 8/23/2017 at 1:19 PM, Adelaide9216 said:

The thing is that I get numerous media interview requests to talk about mental health and mental illness and everytime, I feel like I do not know enough on the topic to be called an "expert" on it, other than being an expert of my own experience and journey. That's why I want to do a PhD on that topic. I feel like there is always something missing in the interviews that I give.

Picking a topic based on "employability" can easily backfire, if for no other reason than because what's "hot" now may not be hot 5+ years from now, when you go on the job market. You should choose a topic that you are interested in, so you can sustain research in it over a long period of time. That interest can come from a personal connection to the topic, like it sounds that you have. But it's important to allow your interests develop based on where you are in your PhD program. Pick a program that can support the general area you topic is in, but keep in mind that it's possible -- even likely, and if you ask me, desirable -- for your interests to grow and change once you're exposed to new ideas in your new program. In any event, I think it's not wise to go too narrow before you even start your PhD. Give it time. See what topics attract your attention during coursework, and through talking to advisors in the program. Run ideas past them, read the literature, to learn how to connect what you are interested in with the current state of the art. There are ways to innovate by connecting to what people are already doing, and for various reasons that may be wiser than going off too far afield; but this all is a discussion you should have with your PhD advisor maybe 3 years into your program, not now.   

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I am interested in mental health as well. Otherwise, I wouldn't do media interviews about it and share my own story. But I agree that it's a bit early to make a clear choice now. I was just thinking and being reflective about it. 

But you are right, it's important to keep options open. 

Edited by Adelaide9216

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3 hours ago, fuzzylogician said:

Picking a topic based on "employability" can easily backfire, if for no other reason than because what's "hot" now may not be hot 5+ years from now, when you go on the job market. You should choose a topic that you are interested in, so you can sustain research in it over a long period of time. 

THIS. My subfield was all the rage on the job market back when I started my PhD but it is definitely not all the rage right now. So, I'm glad it's something I enjoy doing research in because otherwise I'd be really pissed off about the whole thing. To fuzzy's other point, my interests have also evolved over time and are much broader now than they were when I began my PhD, which has been a good thing when it comes to the market.

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On 4/2/2017 at 4:54 PM, fuzzylogician said:

It's hard to tell from this information. Maybe. You should talk to an advisor. People starting out in a PhD program tend to think it's good to work on a topic that doesn't have any literature in it. I would challenge that way of thinking. You want to engage in a conversation with others; you want to work on a topic that others care about -- if for no other reason than you want to be accepted to conferences and published, and for that you need people to think your topic is important and interesting. You also want to be relevant when it comes time to find a job. If no one is interested in what you are doing, you'll have a harder time explaining why anyone should care and hire you. So, if there is literature in general and there's a clear case to be made about why a Canadian case study is interesting, that's one thing. If no one is doing it for some other reason, then that's a different story. So bottom line, you need to talk to someone who knows more about your field. Like your advisor. (And if you're a first-year, or not even that, you need to keep an open mind and remember that your interests might -- and should -- develop while you're in the program. So this might all be premature.)

I think this is all exactly right.

It's also worth mentioning two other things:

(1) Your topic may not be quite as novel as you think (and this is where supervisor guidance can help: both to steer you to the relevant literature, in assessing the topic's potential contributions, and determining whether it's worth the effort). As Sigaba mentioned upthread, novel dissertations can be really hard to write, let alone to sell to your peers. I know from personal experience; the sum total of pre-existing research directly on my topic was a single recent article. That makes the literature review and framing issues especially hard, although it does open up space to distance yourself from the pre-existing literature. The trouble is that that literature is your only guidepost through the topic, and that makes it more difficult (emotionally and intellectually) to open up the space you need between your work and theirs.

(2) There's a fair bit of doctoral and post-doctoral funding out there (mostly through the government of Canada) for issues that pertain directly to Canada. This is especially true for areas of research in which there's a significant Canadian lacuna. As long as your supervisor is supportive of your project, it might be an especially good bet on future funding. But start chasing that funding starting in your first year. Your supervisor should be able to help steer you towards the right grants.

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