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Identifying Research Area and Topic


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Identifying Research Area and Topic

Almost every graduate student is interested in a variety of subjects at first, but if your interest is divided among several subjects for too long, you should seek help with your advisor to start focusing. But finding a focus is often a matter of making connections among several subjects and placing one at the center. Whether or not that subject of your interest is a "hot" topic at the time, your specialty as a graduate student must also be something that you think will keep you interested for a long time. Consult your academic advisor and ask which other faculty members are most knowledgeable on the subject of your interest. With the advent of the Internet, it is also possible to communicate with experts of the subject beyond your own university.
Relevant workshops (see Calendar for current workshops)
  • GSC Graduate Research Symposium  

  • Search  "research" or "moving on" on the PLAN Resources page for links to workshop materials and other resources.
Student Experience


Amber Carrier, President of Graduate Student Council (2008-2010), shares some useful advice on forming your thesis or dissertation committee. Amber Carrier

  The Thesis/Dissertation Committee will be the most important group of people in your graduate academic experience.  This group of individuals will serve to guide you in developing your research, grade you on your performance, give your exams, and in the end determine whether you will graduate or not.  THe selection of this committee is extremely important.

     As far as who to select, there are a number of things to keep in mind.  Your department will likely have some rules on committee selection, and some individuals will be required to be part of it.  Your advisor is most certainly one of these individuals.

     You should consider anyone who's research interests closely align with your own, and individuals who can help you in specialized ways.  For example, if would like to set up a project studying diversity in the workforce, it would be helpful to have an individual that studies the aspect of diversity that you are hoping to explore as well as an individual who has academic experience setting up these types of studies and the statistical analysis of them.  It's helpful to at least have a cordial relationship with your committee members; it is far less awkward to be given exams by someone you can get along with rather than someone with whom you share mutual animosity.  Often departments have a requirement that at least one committee member must come from outside the department; this committee member, if he or she is from another institution, may be the biggest enigma to you.  However, this individual should be someone who can offer a unique perspective to your work, and possibly help you to tie it into a larger picture.


If you do not know your department well, you may do well waiting at least a semester with committee selection in order to have some experience in these individuals' classes and to develop a relationship with them.  You will then have a better idea if they will be a good fit for you and vice versa.

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