Tuesday, July 24, 2012

How to chose the dissertation topic

All PhD or MSc students are asking the same questions at the beginning of their career: how to select the best thesis project? Indeed, there are many ingredients required to cook a good dissertation. Let me share some of my thought.

How to find the research topic? Where to start the search? The synonym for search is Google today. Yes, Internet is the source of great knowledge but there are also other sources. Our university diploma works are available on line and all dissertations are available in our department library. I would suggest to start here. Go through them and read especially conclusions they include lot of suggestions for further development. Starting with the works from our department has one advantage: they are focusing on what our faculties are interested in. Understanding the research in our department will result in better, more efficient follow-up search on the Internet.

Work systematically. Record all what you have read and try to identify what was each work solving. What was the contribution and conclusion? What are the open problems. I strongly suggest to write a blog.

While selecting a topic consider the added value. Once you solve the dissertation problem what is the benefit. I also will suggest checking the business value of the topic or research. Do you think someone will buy the solution? Is the created intellectual property good for creating a startup?

What other considerations can help you in selecting the topic? During the school years you were good in some of the courses, you liked solving certain problems. These are the areas to search for a good problem. It is very important finding something you are passionate about. Passion is an essential ingredient of a success in any project. Do not forget there is a long way to solve even a simple problem and you need to stay focused and motivated. Motivation drives great performance and leads to the best results.

As soon as you get closer to the problem formulation write an essay. It should not be too long, one up to two pages are enough. Try in simple words explain to someone who is not an expert in the field what you want to do, why are you passionate about the problem and what will be the benefits. Even if you are going to focus on a fundamental theoretical problem you better know what is your contribution and who is interested in the results. The larger is the group of people who will benefit from your solution the better.  Do not do anything just for the sake of research ask and answer real practical questions.

Once the project is at least vaguely formulated go to the Google scholar or other research databases and identify the major journal focusing on your topic. Collect relevant articles and sort them out. Cluster the topics in major groups. This will help you to find out the state of the art in the area of interest. You will also learn who are the major leaders in the field, where they publish and what is popular. Do the same for the major conferences. Do not forget you need to publish to prove your competencies in the field. The journals and conferences are the targets for publishing your results.

What is also important? Your chosen topic needs to align with the interests of your advisor. Choosing the right advisor and aligning your topic with his interest is essential. You are in fact looking not only for the advisor you better search for a group of people researching similar topics. The reason is very simple, you need to regularly discuss with your peers and the advisor too. The discussion is the best way to improve your views, to get further motivation, to have someone who will argue with you, who will ask you to get deeper to the problem. Group of people working on the same topic will also help you to stay focused not to loose the direction. Your peers are the best listeners and advisers to your research interests.

Last but not least. Research work is not very well paid and you need some funding. Therefore I recommend looking for all the grants, funding or granted projects in the area at the very beginning while deciding about your project. Identify the possible sources and constantly search for funding. Proposing a new research or asking for funding for your research is also not simple, you need to learn it. Think about it also as soon as possible. Think about the best way to present your project, research and its results. Find the most persuasive ways how to demonstrate your research results. Understand who can be your customers, who needs the results of the research, these people are the possible candidates for funding.

Good dissertation is a result of a hard, long time effort and requires lot of ingredients. This year we have been very lucky and we got three new doctoral students who decided to take this path. I hope, we will do great job and come with exciting and new ideas. Follow us on the Cloud Computing Center pages and check how successful we are in completing all the above steps.

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