Two things learnt about identifying research topics

I was talking to a professor about my ideas for the research proposal. Last week I was telling him I’d do something related to planned obsolescence but thought it would be really hard to find credible data to evaluate the level of planned obsolescence. Although it is a fascinating and important topic (theoretically and practically), there is almost zero empirical study and therefore no empirical framework for me to directly adopt.

When I expressed my concerns, the professor straightened his face and said seriously: “You can’t have this attitude when you’re looking for research topics. I know it’s hard to find data for this, but that doesn’t mean you CAN’T do it.” Then he went on to suggest a few potential sources (most anecdotal). I think he was right about the attitude. The very essence of research is the discovery of something new. This is where excitement and frustration come from, where years of work are spent. To become a successful researcher, I need to get rid of the fear for the unknown and undefined.

The second thing I learnt is the importance of justifying why your research matters. This is important because a) you can only succeed at something you truly have passion about and interested in finding out the answer, and b) you will need to convince others that your research matters to get a job and (more importantly) to establish your credibility in your field. I’ve seen a couple upper-year students present their research and failing to tell the audience why we should care. The result is a group of semi-asleep audience and little useful feedback.

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