Picking the Project: How to Reduce
the Stress of Selecting a Dissertation Topic

Tom Hawkins (Ohio State University)

So, preliminary exams are finally behind you, and now it’s time to make the Big Choice.  “What do I like?  What do I know about?  Who should I work with?  What topics are hot?  Which are duds?  How creative should I be?  WHAT TOPIC WILL GET ME A JOB!?”  Questions such as these rush through the minds of panicked A.B.D. students everywhere as they seek instant brilliance from an already stressed out brain.  I will help sort through these seemingly overwhelming issues and offer some advice for making this important decision through a combination of practicality and personal anecdotes (what have I seen work; what didn’t).

There is no magic topic waiting for you to be discovered, but by working with a purpose in this preliminary stage you can find a worthwhile subject and hone it into that killer diss that will help you achieve your professional goals.  My advice will be simple and centered around four basic issues:  1) assessing your own interests and skills, 2) assessing the resources available to you (primarily, but not exclusively, in terms of on-campus faculty), 3) seeking out help, and 4) the art of productively “reading around.”  Thinking in these terms will help un-clutter your thoughts and move you closer to a thesis topic that works for you.

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