Associate teaching professor Corliss Thompson shares her top tips for choosing your EdD dissertation topic.
You’ve learned more about why you should earn your Doctor of Education (EdD), and now you’re ready to apply. As part of the Northeastern application process, however, you’re required to submit a problem of practice that you want to pursue throughout the course of your doctoral program.
But how do you arrive at that problem of practice and narrow your area of interest down into a specific dissertation topic? Here are some tips to keep in mind.
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Tips for Choosing a Dissertation Topic
1. Pick a topic you’re passionate about.
A lot of work goes into your dissertation—from the literature review, where you’re conducting a critical analysis of what’s been published on your topic, to interviewing stakeholders and actually writing the dissertation itself. Each of those steps take time, so you want to choose a topic that will keep you engaged and hold your interest.
When trying to decide your area of focus, consider the challenges you’re motivated to address and the difference you want to make both during and at the end of your EdD program. The goal is that you will continuously build off your dissertation research and leverage the work in a way that positively impacts your organization and/or community.
2. Ensure your topic is manageable.
You want to select a topic you can complete during the duration of your EdD program that is also aligned with your budget. If you need to travel or perform longitudinal research, your idea might not be achievable. Find what available, attainable data you can, and use that to narrow down your research into a dissertation that’s more manageable.
3. Embrace the unknown.
Although you’re passionate about your topic and it’s manageable, there will still be lingering questions about your subject. Be prepared to explore what you don’t know and deepen what you already do know. Strong research typically results in more questions.
Be ready to ask questions of yourself, others, and the literature, and get comfortable with not knowing the answer. As you’re thinking about your dissertation, keep track of inquiries that emerge around different ideas. Those may help you hone in on a topic.
4. Leverage your peers.
One benefit of enrolling in an EdD program is the diversity of backgrounds and opinions you’ll find within your cohort. At Northeastern, EdD instruction is primarily online, which enables students to connect and collaborate with professionals from around the world.
Vasiliki Goudanas Mavroudhis, a recent graduate of Northeastern’s EdD program, emphasized this benefit in her piece on what it’s like to be in an online doctoral program, saying:
The ability to not only have a cohort-based network, but one that crossed cohorts and continents, allowed me to have a far richer and deeper experience. I learned from students with different perspectives who came from different industries across a number of countries.
When fleshing out your dissertation, use that global network to your advantage. Ask your peers for constructive feedback. It’s likely they’ll have suggestions on how you can approach your topic from different cultural perspectives.
5. Know it’s OK to change your topic.
It’s natural for your dissertation topic to evolve the more research you complete and experts you interview. Actually, it’s expected.
Switching topics halfway through the program might seem like more work, but you will have already gone through the research process once and laid the foundation for your dissertation. As you approach your topic from different perspectives, it’s understandable if your own viewpoint changes a bit.
If you’re in need of inspiration, here are some examples of doctoral research Northeastern students have recently conducted:
- “The Drop Out Decisions of Latino College Students”
- “Changing the Experiences of African Refugee Youth”
- “Supporting Students Through Mindful Mentoring”
- “The Transitioning Student Veteran: Finding Your Civilian Career Through Academic Success”
- “Bridging the Gap Between Training and Educating in Adult Learning”
- “Watch out for Shards from the Glass Ceiling: A Study of Women Higher Educational Administrators’ Leadership Development Experiences”
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