Finding your thesis topic is not an easy task. We are supposed to find something interesting, innovative and relevant within our disciplinary fields. The anxiety increases every day as the deadline for submitting our thesis topic and possible supervisor is closer. This is perhaps harder than writing the thesis itself. Here are a few tips that can help you find something that is interesting, feasible and perhaps original.
1. Identify something you are interested in or passionate about
You decided to study in this program for a reason, so remind yourself constantly what topics you find appealing inside this field. From the beginning, keep track of those discussions or issues that ring a bell for you. While reading or during the lessons, try to identify those moments in which you are puzzled or interested. Write them down in a notebook, or in your cellphone. Try to articulate your thoughts on the subject, writing them or recording your voice. If you find that there is a topic that you keep referring to, you might have found something already. This is a huge step, perhaps the main one.
2. Discuss your interests with people
The greatest ideas are not inventions of geniuses that work in isolation. Knowledge depends greatly on collaboration and dialogue. So, don't feel bad if you cannot come up with something on your own―no one does. Instead, try to discuss your interests with people, even if there are still very general ones. Talk to your classmates and your teachers. Try to ask people if they know something about this subject and if they can give you references. This will help you narrow down your interest and identify possible questions or gaps.
3. Talk to the faculty
While talking to your classmates is very important, I strongly advise you to talk to a few of your teachers very early, even if you don't have anything in mind yet. They can give you great guidance and help you identify who to work with, what to read, and what the interesting gaps in the field are. If you don't know which professors you can approach, you can check their research fields on the department's website and find who works with topics related to your general interests. You can also ask second-year students if they know which professors might be able to help you. Contact them by email, explaining generally what you are curious about and asking for an appointment during their office hours. Discuss your broad interests with them. You can start the discussion by asking for bibliographic references, a particular question, or about their knowledge on this particular topic. Tell them that you are trying to narrow down your thesis topic, they probably will give you suggestions and ideas. Even if the teacher is not the right fit for your subject, she or he can tell you who in the department might be. Usually, professors are really willing to help, so don't be afraid to talk to them.
3. Use your class assignments to develop your interests
Try to use the class assignments as much as possible to develop aspects of those topics that ring a bell for you. This will help you to explore and to start narrowing down what exactly you are really interested in. It will give you the chance to examine the bibliography related to the subject and to articulate some thoughts about it. In my case, one small assignment during my first semester ended up being my MA thesis and the topic of my research project for my PhD application. So, don't underestimate the small assignments! A small fascination can develop into a great passion.
By Angela Patricia Heredia Pineda, Alumni Scholarship Recipient student in the Department of Gender Studies at Central European University