The process of choosing a topic requires a lot of research in itself. You may already have a deep interest in a research area, but you usually need to do additional reading in and around your area of interest before arriving at the ‘right’ topic.
The Thesis Whisperer
The Thesis Whisperer is a useful blog for developing research questions. The Thesis Whisperer is dedicated to helping research students – linking students around Australia and the world. It’s edited by Dr Inger Mewburn, director of research training at ANU.
The Research Whisperer
The Research Whisperer is another online resource, with specific focus on research in professional academia and funding.
The University of Sydney Learning Centre
It’s not uncommon for your thesis topic to change over time, as you get further into your research.
When you have a research topic, you can approach potential supervisors. Your supervisory panel will consist of a lead supervisor and at least one other supervisor, appointed by the postgraduate coordinator. This will be done in consultation with your lead supervisor, and (usually) you.
If you don’t have an immediate idea for a lead supervisor, use the University of Sydney’s Research Supervisor Connect page. This lists all academics eligible for supervision for either Master’s or Doctorate research, according to faculty and areas of research interest.
When deciding on a lead supervisor, consider which is the relevant faculty for your research area, and whether your research area lends itself to an interdisciplinary approach. You will need to decide on your ‘home’ faculty, where your lead supervisor is located, while potentially also having supervisory guidance from an academic or expert from a different discipline or faculty, or even from a different institution, industry, or field.
For your lead supervisor, it’s best to contact an academic who has researched and written in your area of interest, to ask if they have the capacity to take on supervision of a research student. We recommend writing a concise summary of your research topic (using The Learning Centre’s resources), sending it to the academic, then meeting to discuss your proposal.
If the academic is interested, check how many research students they currently supervise. While having many HDR students suggests a popular and possibly successful supervisor, consider whether it will impact the time and support you’ll receive. University policy specifies that each supervisor should have a maximium of 5 research students, unless they are given special permission to take on more.
In some circumstances you may be assigned a supervisor from commencement, without having to approach any academics directly – these arrangements often work well.
If you have doubts about the quality of any of your supervisory relationships, consider contacting your faculty postgraduate coordinator to talk through your issues. Sometimes students and their supervisors become incompatible due to changes in research area or direction, or personality clashes etc. Seek advice early from your faculty postgraduate coordinator. You can also contact us for independent, professional and confidential advice at any time in your candidature.