Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Inspiration for a Disstertation Topic

Finding the "right" topic for a dissertation can be quite challenging.  At Royal Holloway School of Management, provided the topic encompasses management (with is in itself pretty large) anything goes. 

It is dissertation season so I have been having lots of conversations recently with students trying to find the "ideal" topic and asking for advice evaluating between option 1, option 2 and even option 3.  If there are still five or more options on the table I get a little bit worried about lack of focus.

Usually for me the key building blocks of a good research project are twofold:  (1) a management context and (2) an area of management theory.  Taking the last first...

Strong papers include a theoretical focus, be that knowledge management, CRM, culture, consumer behaviour or behavioural economics.  This might be a topic you have already studied in some detail and you want to take it further.  You might be tactical and identify learning that will stretch you into a new area that has not been covered or covered lightly in your study programme, but that you believe might have relevance for your future career.   Some have half an eye on a potential PhD thesis.   I have seen strong dissertation grades and relevant titles used as discussion lures on CVs.  Getting the top grade, or a distinction/first class grade on your dissertation might be something worth gloating about ?

MSc Entrepreneurship students in discussions

Students with access to a real business context (and particularly those students following a distance learning programme) often choose to pick a real business problem and use the dissertation as a deep and sustained way at looking for key insights and hopefully realisable solutions.
Whilst this is something that I strongly encourage with students I supervise, this approach can result in additional work.  Often business engagement leads to a request to deliver a presentation (GREAT !  because this means the business thinks you have something of worth to say)   or perhaps a written report that needs to more closely adhere to concise business writing conventions.  Sometimes this can lead to offers of employment.  I am sure a real business question helps in the job finding process.  However, at Royal Holloway you can equally well address a more theoretical topic, and many students do very well following this path.

Once you have reached this point the next steps are to spend considerable time (more time that you would like to, and then multiply this by five) engaging with academic journals (taking detailed and copious notes, whilst simultaneously filling out each and every reference in full Harvard style in your shell dissertation document).

Of course, of paramount importance is picking a subject that is of genuine interest.  Students following longer programmes often find themselves pretty exhausted (and a little stressed, as their end grade is overwhelmingly important and the idea of a long, hard, deep, meandering learning journey that makes your head spin is not always that attractive !) and struggle to find the sparkle to stimulate higher levels of motivation.  Without a really keen interest in the topic, the tipping point (move from a challenging, exciting endeavour to a chore that must be finished) is reached much earlier.  Super XL levels of focus and discipline are then required to succeed when this is the case.

Thus mathematically the solution is expressed quite simply;


(AREA OF THEORY + QUESTION CONTEXT ) x 5 lots of academic research = STRONG TOPIC