The posting below looks at an interesting program that helps match student research interests with topics that are meaningful to society in one way or another. It is by David Janků of the Effective Thesis Project http://effectivethesis.com (see end of posting for more details). Czech Association for Effective Altruism www.efektivni-altruismus.cz Reprinted with permission.
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How to Choose a Thesis Topic
Finding a good thesis topic is hard. I first experienced this problem myself in the final year of my bachelor studies. I was ready to work hard on my final thesis, devote hundreds of hours and exceptional effort to it as these bigger projects always motivated me. Also, it was something tangible to finish my studies with and I wanted to finish with a “great parade”. However, I was still unsure about what exactly it was that I was going to devote so much time and effort to. I was in turmoil with almost no advice at hand and most of my classmates felt the same. In the end, they ended up taking some easily accessible topic they hadn’t thought about very much. I was lucky enough to roughly know which area I was interested in but had no idea what specific questions to ask. When I heard that one of the teachers specializing in that area offered ready-made topics I didn’t wait a second, made an appointment with him an agreed to work on the first topic he proposed. I didn’t know anything about it, but I was ready to learn more and the feeling of not having to search for a topic for next several weeks was invaluable.
That was when I understood that choosing a topic is really hard. However, it’s the most important part of the research process. When I reflected back, it was hard to believe how little attention all of us gave to such an important part of the writing process where we would invest hundreds of hours and huge effort over the next many months. When I finished my bachelor studies, I decided I wanted to try and chance things. I found that people from what was called “the effective altruism community” did long research into which world problems are most pressing and that many of these problems lacked research attention. “When there is a lack of research on the one hand and thousands of students desperately looking for a topic on the other, why not help them all?” flashed through my mind. That was when I first came upon the idea of setting up effectivethesis.com.
Effective Thesis is a project that offers students topics for their final theses and dissertations that are meaningful and have a high potential to significantly improve the world. We have decided to offer help in this regard in two ways: (1) putting up a list of topics in need of research in which students can surf and match themselves with a topic they feel is a good fit and (2) providing individual coaching for those students who couldn’t find a fit with any topic on our list. Below, I describe both of these services in more detail.
List of topics
We started our project by putting together a list of important topics that lacked research attention. Since no list like that existed, we decided to ask organizations working on some of the world’s most pressing problems what would they need to know to make significant progress in their cause. We transformed their responses into topic profiles, containing not only description of the topic, but also justification of why the topic is important and a link to relevant literature to provide a head start for those interested in the topic. We also arranged with these organizations to provide consultations to students who choose one of their topics to ensure high practical utility of the student’s work. Via consultations, organizations can check whether students are answering the right question in their research and also provide some useful theoretical and practical tips to improve the research and make it more relevant. For better orientation we included filter functions to allow students to filter topics by their study discipline and area of interest stemming from the most pressing global problems. The list has now more than 200 topics in 21 study disciplines and is still growing.
Creating a list of important topics was a good start, however, there were additional issues that needed to be addresses. First, we found that good fit of a topic might differ for students optimizing for highest social impact of their thesis, improving their general career prospects or preparing for a research career. Whereas topics in our list will help students to contribute to solving some of the most pressing global problems and therefore have high social impact, it may not always help them obtain a job or prepare for a research career. Therefore, we have written three instructional articles to provide students with advice in these three instances.
We have also found that some topics we proposed were too broad and would require narrowing down, that some students couldn’t find a supervisor at their faculty for a topic they liked and that some students were struggling to assess whether they are a good fit for the topic they chose with their skills and longer term career plans. Therefore, we created another service to address these issues.
Thesis Topic Coaching
To account for the above mentioned issues, we decided to take a more individual path by providing individual coaching. In the coaching process, a coach takes into account factors such as longer term career goals, supervisor availability, students’ interests, skills, experience and course requirements and comes up with a choice of few topics tailored made to student’s circumstances. In an online call, student and coach then discuss coaches’ suggestions and design the final form of the topic. If students don’t prefer any of the suggested topics, they may clarify their expectations and the coach will try to suggest a new set of topics based on their clarification. The coach will not help students with thesis writing itself, but if students decide to work on one the proposed topics, we will try to connect them with external researchers or organizations working on the same problem.
Effective Thesis is a charitable project that aims to direct research into areas deemed crucial to significantly improving the world that at the same time lack research attention. There is no cost to the students. The only expectation is that the students will conduct as high-quality research as possible and the Effective Thesis Project will do everything in its capacity to help with that! Get in touch and make your thesis meaningful!
About the Effective Thesis Project
The Effective Thesis project aims to focus research on areas that have the potential to greatly improve the world. A lot of skilled and talented people at universities find themselves in a situation where they have to write a large final thesis (bachelor, diploma, Ph.D.) at least once during their studies. Many of them find it difficult to choose a topic and end up giving much time and effort into a paper that only serves as a means to get their degree, with almost no subsequent applications. But when there is so much energy invested in the thesis, why not choose a topic that will, on the top of gaining you a diploma, benefit and help someone else?
Our coaches have broad and deep overview of the most pressing global issues and people working on them, so they can offer students topics tailored to their expertise and situation. When students choose one of our topics, we will also try to connect them with people both within academia and practice working on the same issue to ensure highest possible quality and utility of students’ work.