Planning and conducting a dissertation research project ..
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Frequently, graduate students attempt to evaluate project ideas without having first determined criteria that would allow them to differentiate good ideas from bad. Criteria sometimes considered by students when evaluating potential projects include logistic feasibility, originality, and size often simply whether a project seems large enough to earn a doctoral degree. These criteria are necessary but insufficient for a wise decision. For students who view the Ph.D degree as a means of obtaining a preferred job, the single most important question to consider when evaluating potential dissertation projects should be: What is the likelihood that this research will generate sufficient interest to launch a successful career? Although other graduate advisors may not agree with the points I make, I hope the article encourages them to articulate more clearly the criteria they use to evaluate doctoral dissertations.
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Of all the decisions that a student makes during his or her graduate career, the selection of a dissertation project is perhaps the most important and most difficult. This decision can come early in their graduate school careers, often before students have developed and understanding of all of the factors to be considered. This problem is particularly acute for Ph.D students who have not first obtained a master's degree and, therefore, have that much more to learn about conducting research. I have advised doctoral students in evolutionary biology over the past eight years and have served on seven search committees to fill tenure-track research positions in evolutionary biology. In this article, I articulate the many ramifications of selecting a dissertation topic and outline how students might go about making this article for graduate students interested in pursuing a research career on biology, but my central theme is relevant to graduate students in any doctoral program.