How to Choose a Research Topic

4 minute read
How to Choose a Research Topic

Are you an undergraduate studying in India? Or, perhaps a young working professional considering Study Abroad for a graduate degree? Maybe you are a PhD aspirant seeking a fellowship at a top-ranking university. Either way, you need to ace your application, right? I am a Professor with several years of international teaching experience and this Blog series is written for you! We all know that several components make an application top-class: Statement of Purpose, Personal Essay, and Profile. I have written Blogs about each of these. Today I am focusing on how to choose a research topic, not a large PhD level research project but the Research project which you may want to undertake before you apply for a PhD or a Graduation degree. This may be for a degree you are pursuing currently or it may be a small Project you do before applying for an advanced degree for Study Abroad. 


How can a Research Project help you Ace your Application for Top-Ranking Universities? 

Undertaking any Research Project is a huge advantage when you apply to a top-ranking university because it becomes evident that you possess research skills and are prepared to undertake any advanced level of study. Some top-ranking international universities give you extra credit if you can show that you have already done a small research project with a guide/ professor or supervisor. I have supervised many such projects for students at all levels. I know that when I write a referral for a student who has done a small research project with me, it counts favorably in the admission process. So doing a Research Project can be a huge advantage. But here is the irony! 

Unfortunately, most Indian high schools and colleges do not provide any systematic training in research skills for our students. My observation is based on the feedback given by hundreds of students over the years. And, a frequent question I see posted on Quora and Google is :  

How to Choose a Research Topic/Subject?

Looks like this is a ‘pain point.’ But, it need not be. I have seen that even bright, diligent students can sometimes feel stuck about the Research component of an application process, only because they don’t know how to choose and frame the research idea. Thus, I am offering pointers that are applicable whether you are doing Social Sciences, Computer Science, or Life Sciences. The tips are prompt questions that will help you to develop Critical Thinking skills which can be used to create your Research Topics at any stage of your career. 

How can you Develop a Good Research Topic? 

Here is a process to follow. This can be applied regardless of the subject you are studying like  Computer Science, Engineering, Anthropology, Psychology, Commerce, Economics, Business, or Humanities

  • Step One is always REFLECTION!
  • Think deeply about your subject(various courses you have studied within that program). 
  • Which aspect/course/ topic did you enjoy most? 
  • Why is that aspect interesting? Does it have relevance to change any process (banking manufacturing/healthcare/supply chain/ customer experience anything?
  • What will be the social impact of this? (will it change lives or make some processes easier for those who are marginalized / or people with special needs etc) 
  • What can be the economic impact of this? (cost-effective/time-saving/ reducing pollution etc.) 
  • Can it contribute to the greater well-being of humanity? 
  • If you are a Humanities student (Literature/ History/ Philosophy) your research topic should offer a fresh perspective; a new way or a comparative way of approaching that event in history or that work of Art or Literature. 

Now stop for a moment and Think again about each of the above questions. Do they cover What; How, Why, and What Will Happen as a result of this topic that you are exploring? Even if your Topic can answer three of these questions positively, you have already hit upon a top-quality research topic. A good Research Topic forces us to RE-Think about a Product, Service, Process, or Point of view research is not necessarily about coming up with an ‘Innovation’. It is about building on existing knowledge of how things are done and thought about. Research is about using Critical Thinking and asking questions. The questions should challenge:

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WHAT we know HOW we do something and  WHY a new way of doing so can have enduring social or economic IMPACT. So, Good Luck with choosing your Research Topic. We will be back next Friday with another amazing blog from Dr.Maina Chawla Singh. Till then, if you have any questions or suggestions, just drop us a comment and we will get back to you. 

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