Choosing a Thesis topic: Why an ‘OK’ topic may be better than a ‘Good’ topic

Many Post Graduate students struggle to finalize their thesis/ dissertation topics.

The reason? The quest for the one elusive ‘good’ topic that will do one or more of the following:

1. Be path-breaking.

2. Be interesting to the candidate, the guide and (hopefully) the examiner.

3. Be ‘publishable’ in the near future.

4. Be labour intensive (large sample size/ difficult data collection/ complicated analysis, etc.) so that nobody can accuse the student of having ‘had it easy’.

Practical difficulties aside, a ‘good’ topic is often not such a good idea because:

1. It is hard to come by- precious time would have been lost (which could have been spent more constructively/ gainfully) by the time one realizes that the ‘good’ topic is unlikely to make an appearance any time soon.

2. The dissertation is one of many requirements of a PG program; not the only one. Choosing a topic that will swallow up most of one’s time and resources implies having little time for other learning/ activities.

3. A ‘good’ topic often requires good funding- something that may not be forthcoming for many.

4. Such a dissertation may not ordinarily be completed in time for submission. Those that do, are likely to require extraordinary effort from the candidate. A good dissertation that fails to be submitted in time is far less impressive than an ‘OK’ dissertation that does.

5. Obtaining the required sample may not be feasible within the available time frame. This will only serve to diminish the quality of the study.

6. Publication is not the first objective of a PG dissertation- demonstrating an understanding and application of basic scientific methodology within the framework of the program is. In order to achieve this, one need only perform an OK study.

Pragmatism pays.

Disclaimer: The above opinions are with respect to (medical) PG dissertations- not PhD theses, which have different requirements.

One thought on “Choosing a Thesis topic: Why an ‘OK’ topic may be better than a ‘Good’ topic

  1. Seems like good advise for PhDs to. You often hear in Economics departments that the best strategy is to “work on an acceptable dissertation rather aiming for the perfect dissertation”

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