Choosing a Subject for Study

Deciding on an area of study within a particular discipline can be challenging. But it’s important to be clear on your preferences before you make a commitment to a particular area of study. Here are a few questions to ask yourself as you think about subjects for study:

  • In your undergraduate classes, what content area interested you the most? What did you want to learn more about?
  • Why do you find this area intriguing? Is it personal interest or is it because of someone you admire who does research in this area? While it is valuable to have mentors that you admire, it is equally important to have some personal motivation to learn more about this area that is separate from a professor or other expert.
  • Graduate work is self-directed and focuses on discovering new knowledge. Could you see yourself doing graduate work in the area you’re interested in?

Most graduate programs have descriptions of ongoing faculty research. Check their web sites to see if any faculty interests match your own, or check the database of research supervisors on this website. Another way of clarifying your thoughts is to talk to others. Spend some time talking to someone who does research in your areas of interest. Ask them what it’s like to do research in this area, and what some of the challenges and rewards are.

Talk to other graduate students about how they decided on a subject for study. Find out what worked and didn’t work for them, and how they made their final decisions.

Student Comments: Choosing a Subject

  • "First, collect information about individual faculty members whose research areas may be interesting to you. Second, make an appointment with the faculty members you have identified and talk to them to find out if there is a topic or study area that both you and your potential supervisor are interested in."
  • "I already knew what areas I was interested in, so I visited several different universities for tours. I was able to meet various faculty members and discuss their areas of research. I found this very helpful in choosing a supervisor."
  • "I chose my field of study (Wood Science-Composite Materials) after I had worked in a wood composite research facility."
  • "I would recommend that students work before going to graduate school, if their goal is to work in industry."
  • "Don’t just look at the potential projects that you could be involved in. Look at the bigger picture – what courses will you be required to take? To what extent will you need to complete undergraduate courses to ensure your readiness to complete graduate work? Are you interested in the courses?"
  • "I took a course with a professor who was well respected in his field. After getting to know him and liking the course that I was taking, I approached him about possibilities for graduate school."
  • "Make sure you REALLY like the subject. I find that a lot of students enter graduate school just to keep going to school until something ‘pops’ up."
  • "Choose something you are interested in. I took some classes to figure out the content area…still not sure if I’m at the right school for it though. Suggestions for grads: talk to lots of people, try to figure out a few thesis ideas beforehand and chat them up with professors and other people to see if your study subject is appropriate for what you want to do."
  • "When I came here I had a very broad idea about my subject of study. After contacting a supervisor concerned with this topic we worked together defining a specific subject."
  • "Spoke with other graduate students in my faculty; tried to make sure that my interests were in line with opportunities in the program."