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'Should I change my honors thesis topic?': Some advice from someone who did

This summer I started preliminary research for my thesis. For a variety of reasons, I decided to change my topic and start from scratch. This was a difficult decision, but something that I knew had to be done. In looking back on this experience I realized that others might benefit from my mistakes. Below are a few ways that I knew it was time to change.

By: Alexander Riviere, a Rock Ethics Institute Honors Thesis Fellow

This summer I started preliminary research for my thesis. For a variety of reasons, I decided to change my topic and start from scratch. This was a difficult decision, but something that I knew had to be done. In looking back on this experience I realized that others might benefit from my mistakes. Below are a few ways that I knew it was time to change.

Reading & Data: Is there enough?

            When reading through the literature on the topic, I did not keep in mind the data that was available. This pertains mainly to those focusing on an empirical thesis. This is all about efficiency. When I found something new, I read everything that I could about it and got lost in the literature. I wish I would have made sure that there was a means to get to the end. If the means is non-existent, re-evaluate the topic and choose and end that is achievable. This was a huge part of my decision to switch my topic.

Additionally, I learned to remember the big picture. We can go on wild goose chases if we don’t take a step back, analyze the situation and put ourselves back on track. As I continue my research, the big picture is always in the forefront of my mind.

How far in?

            How far one is into the research should have a huge impact in their decision to change topics. Obviously, it is a lot easier to change the topic when one is in the early stages than when they are on their 49th page of writing. In my case, I was fairly early on in my research therefore I could change topics more easily than if I was further along. I also knew I had a lot of time before the thesis was due, so I felt comfortable changing topics.   

Start broad then narrow down

            This goes along with the previous section. Speaking from my personal experience as well as hearing from senior students, everyone will change their topic in some way. The mistake I made was to begin with a very narrow topic. This limited me and when I felt it was necessary to change topics, I had to start from scratch. If one starts with broad research, it is easier to change to another topic within the same realm.

Research something that aligns with a career choice

            The thesis shouldn’t be something to check off the checklist. I want to become an expert in something and the topic should have something to do with a possible career path or furthering education on a topic of interest. The topic should be something that will HELP the writer due to the extensive knowledge they will have on it when it’s finished. In my case, I changed my career path/goals therefore I felt it was necessary to change my topic. My previous topic didn’t mesh well with my new career path, and my new one hits it right on the head. With the knowledge I will gain on my new topic, I can apply it to my career and I know I will be able to pull from it for years to come.

Love the topic

            Writing a thesis is a lot of work, period. I am just starting and realizing it is a lot more than I thought it was going to be. It is a lot of reading and a total submersion of a student in a particular subject. Due to the fact that I genuinely love my topic, I have motivation to go the extra mile when researching for my thesis.

I hope this helps anyone considering changing topics or anyone just starting out. Good luck and I’ll see you at the gong!

This is a guest post from Alexander Riviere, a Rock Ethics Institute Honors Thesis Fellow. Alexander is a Schreyer Honors College student majoring in Economics in the College of the Liberal Arts.