How to choose your Dissertation question?

A thesis or a dissertation is an integral part of a medical post graduation or medical residency program as well as post doctoral programs. The dissertation is time bound and resources, availability of cases are important considerations.

The thesis aims to prove or disprove a hypothesis. It does this by

  1. Framing the hypothesis as a clear specific statement
  2. Framing a clear, specific, question to be answered and based on the hypothesis

The research question is a strong pillar or foundation on which you build your entire thesis.

How do I choose my research question?

The practice of Medicine is a rapidly evolving field, both in its theoretical foundations and the transition to practical, field, bedside or lab, applications. The global literature is producing new research papers dime a dozen. Choosing something new is a challenge in itself.

What are some of the points should you consider when you choose your question?

  • Start by identifying your interests. What do you want to be, in your future clinical life?
  • Let your interest guide your research. Choose to be an expert in what interests you.
  • Review the literature in your chosen area.
  • Carefully consider the resources in your workplace. What is possible with the infrastructure and resources, including patients, available? Consider faculty resources, support staff resources, time frame for the dissertation, daily patient load, patient interaction possibilities, documentation amongst others.
  • Choose a list of possible questions.

Work through each question.

  • Is this doable given the resources that I have?
  • Can this be answered in the timeframe I have?
  • Can I do this myself or do I need support from other staff members, peers, other departments? Is that support forthcoming?
  • What will I learn from this question?
  • Can I apply this in my future clinical life?
  • Will answering this question impact care for the patient population seen at my workplace?
  • Have a plan B and a plan C.

Meet your guide with a list of questions, learning experiences and possibilities

What should you not look at or should avoid?

  • Do not choose something that cannot be done at your workplace
  • Do not choose something that does not add to your learning.
  • Avoid Questions that have been studied extensively at your workplace
  • Avoid questions that do not let you have a practical or hands on exposure. Remember, the residency is a period for you to learn practical skills that will help you in your career.
  • Avoid the rare and exotic. They are interesting but you can study only a few of those, limiting your learning experience. You do not need a dissertation to study those.
  • Avoid the wait till the last possible moment to choose your question
  • Avoid choosing a question without doing enough research on the literature pertinent to it.

Your dissertation builds on your research question. Choose wisely.