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Choosing psychology dissertation topics

Psychology is a broad field, encompassing the entire study of human belief, personality, thought, and behavior. It is also an incredibly popular field, with tens of thousands of graduate students world wide working, each year, on thousands upon thousands of different dissertation topics. There is a great deal to be studied, and a great deal of subjects to choose between when selecting a dissertation project.

While the depth and breadth of possible dissertation topics in psychology is enormous, there are several factors you can use to help narrow down your topic. These factors are related to your own research interests and expertise, your adviser and committee’s interests, the feasibility of the project idea, and the publishability of the ultimate work.

Your Interests and Expertise

Choose a dissertation topic that relates directly to the topics in psychology you find the most interesting and know the most about. Look back on your classes and ask yourself: which areas did you excel in? If it was attitudes and social cognition, choose a topic related to persuasion, attitude formation, or person evaluation. If you performed especially well in child psychopathology instead, choose a topic related to diagnosis, treatment, or community outreach among children with psychological diagnoses. Use the knowledge you have already developed and apply it to a new project.

Your Adviser and Committee’s Interests

You should also select a dissertation topic that appeals to your adviser. It does not have to be an idea your adviser would choose him or herself, but it should be an area he or she knows a great deal about. This will ensure that your adviser can provide useful feedback, suggestions, and insights. If your adviser is interested in your project, they will also be much quicker to respond to your queries and to return drafts with comments. This applies to the members of your committee as well.

The Feasibility of the Project

Many students experience a delay in their degree progress because they have chosen a dissertation topic that is too challenging or long-term-oriented. Before choosing a topic, ask yourself which of the available options can be completed in two years or less, with the budget you have available. Clinical trials, applied research, longitudinal studies, and multiple large, national surveys are typically bad methods to use in dissertation research because they take many years to complete.

Publishability

Ideally, your dissertation should lead to a line of research that is provocative, novel, and worthy of being published in an academic journal of high repute. When you enter the job market as a new PhD, you want to have several publications on your curriculum vitae, particularly research you spearheaded on your own. Take this into account when selecting a dissertation topic. Ask yourself if your topic of choice is a popular one at the moment, or if your research question is exciting enough that many people throughout the field would want to read about it.

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