research topic
A good research topic is fresh, relevant, and interesting. These are a few ways you can achieve that. Source: Sam Wasson/Getty Images North America/Getty Images/AFP

Coming up with a research topic is no easy feat. You want to write something impactful that you can bring forward in your career, but you don’t know how. 

The great news is that you’re not alone – most students struggle with this. That’s something Dr. Nikita Sandeep Wagle understands, so much so that she created an Instagram account (theinternationalphd) to help graduate students in their PhD journey. 

If you’re struggling to write your dissertation or thesis, consider practising these tips suggested by Wagle. Who knows? You might just stumble upon an idea for your next research topic: 

research topics

Once you have a good idea about your research topic, it’ll be easier for you to answer your research question and secure good grades for your dissertation or thesis. Source: Photo by Thomas Kienzle/AFP

Thinking about your research topic: 5 ways to be inspired

1. Review literature in your field of interest

Research Rabbit is a free software to start looking for literature in your field of interest. It incorporates artificial intelligence (AI) to scan information in public domains about what different papers are about, who cites them, and who they are cited by.

MediaWiki is another website that enables users to set up their own wikipedias. For graduate students, you can set up your own research group wiki or utilise wikis already established at universities, like Aalto University

As a Principal Scientist at the American Cancer Society, Wagle updates herself on the recent advances in her field by reading news related to the Affordable Care Act

2. Attend conferences

Even if you don’t have research to present, don’t be discouraged from attending conferences. Wagle advises that these events can help source research ideas and connect with experts in the field.

If your institution refuses to pay for your professional advancement, pay attention to free research conferences at your university. Some of these events are held virtually, so you won’t even need to leave your dorm to think of research topics.

Linkedin is a great alternative, too. Some faculty members share bits of their conversations on the platform. Try typing “#researchtopic” in the search bar and you will be able to filter through the relevant post.

3. Talk to your advisor

Dr. Aditi Paul, an Associate Professor at Pace University, offers similar advice too. Like Paul, Wagle found the chats with her advisor as an invaluable opportunity to shape her research questions. After all, they are experts in their field.

“In my first year of PhD at Bowling Green State University, I took a course on statistics for social science. Since it was my first time studying the topic, I would visit my professor during office hours every week,” Paul shares. “Here, I would ask for more clarification of my weekly assignments to ensure I was on the right track.”

research topics

Source: Brandon Bell/Getty Images North America/Getty Images/AFP

4. Chat with your seniors

Likewise, your peers are a great source of inspiration for your research topics and offer a different perspective on an idea or topic you have in mind — which is perfect for those who are intimidated at reaching out to advisors or professors at university.

“I was able to navigate my first and bounce off research ideas through my senior PhD student friends in my field across universities,” shares Wagle.

5. Participate in clubs and societies

Struggling to find like-minded people to bounce off research ideas? Consider joining a postgraduate society at university. Here, you’re more likely to interact with a senior who can advise you on how to tackle a challenging research question.

Alternatively, consider joining specialised clubs like journal clubs or lab meetings are another way to keep yourself updated about literature in your field of interest.