keeping the dreams alive

thoughts on research

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It’s been two weeks since the operation and I think I am finally well enough to be up for the whole day and still be okay. Just last week, I was feeling tired after just a few hours. So, I assume that I am recovering well.

So, I am seated at the al fresco area of Starbucks @ Plaza Singapura trying to generate ideas for my thesis proposal at the moment. Two weeks ago, I emailed the supervisors telling them that I will try to circulate the thesis proposal via email by end of December. I am still trying to meet that deadline because this thesis proposal is really an administrative hoop that the HR wants. Honestly speaking, there are a number of administrative hoops that all of us under scholarships or as full time PhD students have to jump through. This is the last thing on my task list for the year I would like to put a tick against.

For the past week or so, I’ve been thinking about the thesis proposal I have to work on. I think it’s almost true for all PhD students that we start out fumbling and searching for our topics. From talking to peers and seniors, it seems so common to be changing your topics after a year. Generally, you generate ideas for your second and third paper when you start on your first paper. So, to be generating a thesis proposal with ideas for your first, second and third papers at one go is a tough cookie to crack.

For me, I was fortunate enough to have a go at some of the ideas I would like to explore for my thesis when I was working on my case studies and economics seminar subjects in Semester 2. My ideas appear to be feasible. I have gotten some constructive comments from my supervisors on how they can be further expanded and hopefully be sent off as my first paper.

But, I’m stuck. How I can further expand this topic? The scope of expansion is huge. How do I narrow the scope down to areas that are interesting, fairly do-able, of certain depth and difficulty and yet not totally off tangent? For me, my ideas are usually motivated by very simple statistics like trade figures and GDP and reading articles from The Economist and so on at the start, before moving onto academic papers. I question the charts and figures. Is that too simplistic of me?

I am also constantly reminded by wise words of my supervisors that it’s better to have a clear question, than to have an overly ambitious topic. I had previously submitted a number of proposals over the course of this year, where I found myself getting derailed from my initial topic. The supervisors have commented that some of my earlier ideas might have been too ambitious for a PhD thesis, which I guess is true.

On another note, over lunch with my ex-colleagues a few weeks ago, one of them asked me on how the standards of research in ANU differ from that at my previous workplace. That got me thinking actually. The research I have done over this past year has definitely been more rigorous on all levels, compared to the ones I’ve done in MTI. However, there is something that doesn’t change anywhere you go. That will be the ability to explain your research in an interesting but simple manner, such that your reader understands. In a way, I am thankful that my previous workplace has trained me fairly well in that aspect, in terms of the multiple revisions I have to make on each paper I submitted.

Speaking of which, the presentations I have done this year for my case studies and economic seminars subjects seem to have been really well received. This came as a surprise to me as I am not usually great with presentations. I will have to credit this to my supervisors and peers at my previous workplace as well. The exposure to various types of presentations (to other civil servants at courses, to foreign delegates, permanent secretaries and so on), the “rehearsals” with my peers at the macroeconomic analysis unit, and the preparation in terms of writing up notes for my presentations have helped.

Alright, time to get some constructive work done for the next two hours before I leave. Breaking down this huge thesis into do-able small pieces of work, and setting achieveable goals is probably the way to go. (:

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Written by Jasmine

December 16, 2010 at 18:17

Posted in Economics, PhD

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