This is a short note from my Roam Research second brain. Here’s a free guide where I introduce you to Roam & Building A Second Brain. 

Metadata of Note

Type: 🍃 Leaf [Nomenclature present here.]

Source: How to choose a PhD topic by Andy Stapleton

Tags: #research #literature review

Date: June 21st, 2022


Rishabh recommended watching this video as he thinks it might help me in writing a thesis for my second book.


Focus on what you will actually DO

He shares his own experience of choosing a topic under solar technology but wishes he had chosen something that would’ve let him go out into the world and talk to people, rather than be stuck in the lab for 3 years. He focused on what “interested” him without thinking through what he actually wanted his day to look like.

Far too often, this is what happens when we choose our careers. We look at the outcome of someone working at their engineering job for 5 years. Outcome = earning $300k/year, living in a beautiful apartment, working less than 8 hours/day, and spending time on their hobbies. BUT, we don’t look at the process. Process = coding a LOT, working under someone, giving up autonomy for money.

When I decided to become a PM, it was because (A) I realized PMs don’t need to code, (b) PMs get paid well, (c) PMs talk to people. All of that was attractive to me. But I didn’t think about the fact that (a) PMs spend a good % of the time just following up, (b) I would need to work under someone and give up my autonomy, and (c) I would be working on a problem that I didn’t care about/didn’t resonate with.

Sometimes, the trade-off makes sense. In my case, working there for 2.5 years helped me pay off my education loan and save up money to now take off 2 years to explore. But when do you know it’s time to stop?


Find the right niche

This is a balancing act: choosing something that’s narrow enough that it’s unique, but broad enough that there’s enough work for 5 years.

I think the questions I am exploring now for [[Balance]] are indeed too broad. I want to narrow it down a bit further until I can visualize the reader and their lives when they read the book.


Explore the area with literature review & past dissertations

He recommends reading papers and past dissertations published in the area you’re interested in exploring.

“If reading past published work, esp dissertations, does not interest you, then it’s worth asking yourself — ‘do i really want to produce a massive volume of book like this over the next 5 years?'”

Do I want to produce a massive book on the topic of escaping autopilot, balance, and systems thinking? I do, and I want to build a community along with it. And I want to do the same for Unshackled to help immigrants.

However, I do think I need to overcome some “embarrassment” I have around writing a self-help book and dissociate myself from the social stigma around the topic.


Find the gaps

While exploring the past work by other scholars, begin noting down questions that pop up for you: “what if they had done this experiment differently? why did they not consider so and so? could this lead to a different conclusion?” etc.

These questions will begin revealing the gap in the research for you.

I’d like to re-read some of the research around the topics of balance, mimetic desires, imposter syndrome, systems-thinking, and goal setting to see what questions pop up in my mind.


Reach out to academics & PhD supervisors

One caveat to remember while reaching out to professors: they have expertise in a very, very narrow topic, and they will look at your interest/thesis topic through that narrow lens.

“If you have a hammer, you will see nails everywhere.”

So ask yourself if their approach to solving your problem makes sense first.

This relates to my book in the form of who I’m getting input from. As Rajesh mentioned yesterday, I might be overanalyzing by getting input from too many people, at different frequencies. For e.g. it’s weekly with Rishabh and Rajesh, biweekly with Sterling Valentine, once in three weeks sometimes with Adyasha, and once in a few months from people like Joshua Levy, Vishal, other people I speak to randomly.

Do I really need so many people’s input? Are they equipped to give me what I want? And, am I putting their input through a filter before it reaches me?


[Added later] Going out into the world with curiosity

I was watching another short video on how to choose a PhD topic. Here, the professor who spoke had a different opinion. Summarizing below:

  • Most people recommend doing lots of literature review first and then identifying gaps in it to find your research topic (as mentioned above). BUT, this is not an effective strategy because it doesn’t come from a place of interest, but rather comes from a place of finding a gap.
  • A more effective strategy is to first read broadly on a few topics you’re interested in, and then go out into the world and discover something that really fascinates you. E.g. if you’ve been reading about solar panels and renewable energy, go out into the world to renewable energy plants, eco-villages, net-zero houses, etc, and see what fascinates you there.
  • Also, talk to people who are curious (such as kids). Talk to them about what interests you, and let their curiosity help you dig deeper.

I like this advice because it’s very rooted in the real world.