Sources and Types of Research Problems
"I've gone through a lot of the literature, and it seems that all the good research topics have been used up. What's left for me to work on?"
One long-honored tradition in academia is that of professors assigning thesis and dissertation topics to their advisees instead of having students create topics of their own. Or, if faculty supervisors don't actually assign topics, they may at least suggest what their advisees might study. There are both advantages and disadvantages to assigned research problems. Perhaps the most obvious advantage of adopting a professor's proposal is that you ensure that your mentor enthusiastically endorses your project. Assigned topics are often part of a faculty member's own research program, with each student's topic representing one piece of a complex puzzle the professor is trying to solve. And if the research is funded by a grant, you may get paid for working on the portion that involves your thesis or dissertation. If a report of the research is published in a journal or in conference proceedings, you may also be credited as a coauthor. Or your mentor may acknowledge your participation in a footnote to a journal article or book chapter. Furthermore, accepting a topic that is part of someone else's research not only relieves you of hunting for a research problem, but it may also lighten your burden of devising a design, creating data-gathering instruments, and interpreting the results. Those tasks may already have been performed by the professor or his staff. However, depending so heavily on others for a research problem robs you of the opportunity to work out such matters for yourself. So, from the standpoint of gaining experience generating and solving problems on your own, an assigned topic that is accompanied by assigned research procedures may get you your degree with less pain, but it may not serve as the best preparation for future research you wish to pursue on your own.
Now, what about this chapter? If you have already been assigned a problem, you may wish to skip the chapter and move on to the next. Or, if you already have chosen a topic of your own, you may want to move directly to Chapter 6.