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In my previous post, one of the readers put a comment requesting for some tips on choosing PhD specialization. Well, I am obviously not the most suitable person to talk about this for I myself is still in the process of pursuing the degree. However, I will try my best to incorporate my own experience on how I choose my specialization/topic here.

My Experience

I was forced to do my PhD. As soon as I finished my Masters degree, I started teaching in a Chemical Engineering Department at a local university. I enjoyed my teaching years where I can get close to the undergraduate students and try to make them understand the subjects. Unfortunately, a Masters degree is not adequate for me to supervise a Master’s degree or/and Phd student. A Masters degree is also not the faculty’s goal for all the faculty members. A PhD is inevitable in order to continue teaching and working as a lecturer there.

Therefore, with a heavy heart, I filled the form to enroll in the PhD program in my own faculty. It was not hard for me to choose my supervisor because I choose a person that I have worked with before for my Masters dissertation. I know his personality and he knows mine. We clicked. However, at that particular time, my supervisor has ran out of research grant money and has already completed all his existing research. Therefore, I was assigned to choose my own topic. I was lost for a while…but not for long. I reflected on what I want to do in the future and where will I be positioned in the faculty. I am supposed to be specializing in ‘separation method’ in chemical engineering because I have been told to join the Separation Group of the faculty. To be more specific, I chose ‘crystallization’ as my specialized area because nobody in the faculty has mastered it.

During my Master’s dissertation, I researched on Palm Oil Crystallization in Producing Edible Oil. Therefore, I decided to continue in the same area but in different medium. I searched the Internet on crystallization and two of the areas caught my attention, metal glass crystallization and freeze concentration. After reading existing journal papers on both topics, I decided to do Freeze concentration. The reason: it’s cheaper, easier to understand and interesting. To conclude, the choosing process was not difficult for me because I know where I’ll be positioned in the future in my career.

For those who are just embarking in pursuing their PhD, here are some tips on how to choose a PhD topic.

Some Tips on Choosing a PhD Topic

1. First of all, do it with considerable care. Never lose sight of the fact that the PhD thesis should be the crowning achievement of your graduate education and will influence the direction of your career for many years to come.

2. It is of great advantage if the supervisors are willing to offer a choice or two or three dissertation topics. He/she will have a better overview of the field, knows the sources, and knows if the dissertation is doable within the allotted time frame. In effect, you will receive a crucial implicit promise that you will be closely guided along the way.

3. If you have good reason to be confident in doing research on the topic of your own choice if close guidance feels too restrictive to you, then proceed, but at least be forewarned that you can easily lead yourself on a wild goose chase.

4. It is imperative that both you and your supervisor be interested in your thesis topic. It is important that your mentor be interested in it because otherwise he/she might be much less motivated to help you.

5. Make sure that you do not start a dissertation on an unfamiliar topic. You should prepare some plans, even if tentative ones, well in advance and have a good overview of the topic before you commence active research.

6. Once you have chosen your thesis topic in collaboration with your supervisor, you should seek his/her active guidance to the utmost degree possible.

7. You will need to learn who the important scholars are in the field. Ask your supervisor who is working in your area, check their respective home pages on the Internet, and look for their working papers.

8. Whether you take a topic selected by your supervisor or develop your own, you have to be excited about the topic. I think it is more likely that this will happen if the topic is developed by you yourself, and coming from questions that you really want to pursue.

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posted by zura @ 4:51 PM,


At Monday, November 19, 2007, Anonymous naza sundae said...

Thanks for the tips, now i know why many of my lecturers are taking Separation method as their specialization.
Eventhough PhD is still far from me since now i'm an undergraduate, it has given a basic idea of my journey after graduating.

For now, my interest is in control system. Not sure whether it is the best choice for future.
Since my university is more inclined towards Oil n Gas industry, separation method is prefered.
So, i think there is not much of a choice for majoring. Most likely, if we were to take Petroleum and Petrochemical, specialization of choice for the company, the job is secured.

At Tuesday, November 20, 2007, Blogger zaki said...

I'm sorry to say that I don't agree with you. There are a lot of choices for you to specialize in. Oil and Gas, Separation, environmental, reaction, biodiesel, control etc are just some of them. Perhaps we can discuss some of them later...

As long as you are very specialize in one niche field, you're the best and in demand...


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The Author


I’m Zaki. I used to be a project, process and chemical engineer. Few years ago I successfully became a Chartered Engineer (IChemE) and Professional Engineer (BEM). I'm now employed as a chemical engineering educator/researcher/consultant. Hope you like reading my blog. I welcome any feedback from you. My email: zaki.yz[alias]gmail.com. TQ!

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