Choosing a PhD research problem

In summary: But what if my advisor is not the right person for me?If you are having trouble deciding whether to tackle foundational problems or to work on established problems, it may be a good idea to speak with your adviser about your preferences. However, if you feel that you will be able to achieve the same level of success by working on established problems without an adviser, that is your decision to make.
  • #1
sardar
2,031
0
Dear All,

For sometime a problem is preplexing me, which I am sure happens with any graduate student in his research career. I have a bent of mind to attack and work on foundational and fundamental problems with new insights, but at the same time I am a on my course for a PhD, now it is difficult for me to decide weather it is wise to go along with your liking of foundational problems or to tackle established problems in the field to earn your PhD.

Now, it seems to be a gamble to me between what you like doing and your career at its starting phase. So any comments would be highly appreciated.
 
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  • #2
If you looked back on your dissertation 20 years after, which would make you more proud?
 
  • #3
sardar said:
tackle established problems in the field to earn your PhD.

I thought dissertation research was always supposed to show something "novel"... although there are certainly different degrees of "novel", right?

verty said:
If you looked back on your dissertation 20 years after, which would make you more proud?

I'm a pragmatist -- I looked at the PhD process not so much of an accomplishment of pride, but as the attainment of a tool. I cared less about the thesis itself than as the fact that AFTER the thesis I would be able to do my own projects. Once you get the degree, you are considered qualified to direct your own projects which is much more interesting.

Also, as a pragmatist, I view the PhD process as an apprenticeship... so picking your adviser is important. Now I'll be honest that I'm concerned here: Is some of your debate between "foundations" and "established problems" really a form of "me against the establishment"? Are you disgruntled with the adviser options available to you? But I could be wrong -- do you have someone(s) interested in the "foundational projects" lined up? And do you think one or more of those persons could give you good guidance to a successful PhD project (publications and dissertation)? Because good luck getting a PhD without an adviser (or with an adviser but without allowing that adviser to really "advise"... you could be in for a very tumuluous relationship) -- yeah -- good luck even if your work kicks butt.

So -- I tend towards just getting the thing and then getting to do your own stuff... within reason. You still need to do something that could hold your interest for 5+ years. So -- for the PhD project, my thought is that you should do something that interests you but has a darn good chance of getting you the degree in the long haul.
 
  • #4
sardar said:
Dear All,

For sometime a problem is preplexing me, which I am sure happens with any graduate student in his research career. I have a bent of mind to attack and work on foundational and fundamental problems with new insights, but at the same time I am a on my course for a PhD, now it is difficult for me to decide weather it is wise to go along with your liking of foundational problems or to tackle established problems in the field to earn your PhD.

Now, it seems to be a gamble to me between what you like doing and your career at its starting phase. So any comments would be highly appreciated.

Shouldn't this be something that you and your thesis adviser be discussing? It is to him/her that you should be addressing what you just typed above.

It is useless to do whatever you please without any endorsement of a faculty member who will act as your supervisor. Unless what you do up there is widely different than what we do here in the US, I strongly believe that having a faculty member to supervise your work is required by your department, no?

Zz.
 
  • #5
ZapperZ said:
Shouldn't this be something that you and your thesis adviser be discussing? It is to him/her that you should be addressing what you just typed above.

It is useless to do whatever you please without any endorsement of a faculty member who will act as your supervisor. Unless what you do up there is widely different than what we do here in the US, I strongly believe that having a faculty member to supervise your work is required by your department, no?

Zz.

You are very right that I have to discuss these things with my supervisor, but also I wanted to float this question to learn from the experience of the learned forum members. Moreover, by advisor has the same inclination as mine for foundational problems, in fact I joined Phd based on my advisors inclination of the problem I also wanted to work on, but then there is always an element of not getting enough by addressing foundational problems in terms of publications for example, so I would like to know from your experiences if what the advisor says and guides is enough, even though no majoy breakthroughs occur in the work or work on things which may be relatively easy to work on.
 
  • #6
I'd go for the most important problem you think you have a chance of actually solving. Your achivements in grad school will largely determine the opportunities that you have after you graduate. Those opportunities will then largely determine your life career.

It is better to shoot for the stars even if you have a high chance of failure than to lower your sights and fail for sure.
 
  • #7
interested_learner said:
I'd go for the most important problem you think you have a chance of actually solving. Your achivements in grad school will largely determine the opportunities that you have after you graduate. Those opportunities will then largely determine your life career.

It is better to shoot for the stars even if you have a high chance of failure than to lower your sights and fail for sure.

Thanks Interested learner for your encouraging comments, I also personally feel that "fortune favors the brave" and you are very right in pointing out that what we do in grad school will for the large part determine my career. I think aiming the stars is good, at the least we will fall on the sky.
 
  • #8
verty said:
If you looked back on your dissertation 20 years after, which would make you more proud?
These days it's more about what your thesis turned into - what publications did it lead to which have become cited leaders in their field.

A bit like what physic's girl was saying - but I'd disagree slightly in leaving the PhD for other projects. At then end, you should be the expert on your particular topic - more of an expert than your supervisor.
 
  • #9
Unless your dissertation topic is some earth-shattering bonanza, i.e. Nobel prize worthy, 10 years after you are done it won't be remembered. I look back at my topic, it was a solid piece of phyiscs but I can't say that I'd go back to doing that type of work full-time now only 6 years after the fact. If I was a faculty member somewhere I'd dredge it back up for additional work by seniorts for their research topic or a series of Masters topics. A PhD is a means to get to work on your own problems down the road and the process is more of an apprentiship.
 
  • #10
You are right. I gave bad advice -- What I say is different from what I do. I have to hang my head in shame for stupidity. I have never once read a thesis from anyone I hired. I only cared that they had the paper qualifications. Of course, I am in industry. University jobs are harder to get and the quality of the thesis might count there. What do you think?
 
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  • #11
interested_learner said:
I have never once read a thesis from anyone I hired
Even the examiners don't read the entire thesis :smile:

And for quality of thesis - you should read quality of publications - when looking at uni jobs.
 

Related to Choosing a PhD research problem

1. What factors should I consider when choosing a PhD research problem?

When choosing a PhD research problem, you should consider your interests, skills, and knowledge. It is important to choose a topic that you are passionate about and have a strong foundation in. You should also consider the current research gaps and potential impact of your chosen topic.

2. How do I know if my research problem is feasible?

Feasibility of a research problem can be assessed by conducting a thorough literature review, consulting with experts in the field, and considering the available resources and time constraints. It is also important to ensure that the research problem aligns with the overall goals and objectives of your PhD program.

3. Should I choose a research problem that is completely new or build upon existing research?

There is no right or wrong answer to this question, as it ultimately depends on your research goals and interests. Building upon existing research can help you contribute to the existing body of knowledge and provide a solid foundation for your study. However, choosing a completely new research problem can also lead to groundbreaking discoveries and contribute to the advancement of your field.

4. How do I narrow down my research problem?

Narrowing down your research problem can be achieved by conducting a thorough literature review and consulting with your advisor or mentor. You can also consider conducting a pilot study to test the feasibility and potential impact of your chosen research problem. It is important to be open to feedback and make adjustments as necessary.

5. What if my research problem changes during my PhD program?

It is common for research problems to evolve and change during the course of a PhD program. This can be due to new discoveries, changing interests, or feedback from your advisor or mentor. It is important to communicate any changes to your research problem with your advisor and make sure that it aligns with the overall goals and objectives of your PhD program.

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