Choosing a subject for your English literature dissertation requires careful thought and deep soul searching. Your dissertation determines the first major scholarly work you will be known for. It also dictates the group of professors you will solicit for your dissertation committee. Your dissertation can even have a direct consequence on your ability to find employment within a university department. For these reasons, choosing a dissertation thesis can be overwhelming.
By the time you have taken a few years of literature classes, you will have undoubtedly discovered a favorite author, genre or mode of literary criticism that harnesses your passion. When undergoing dissertation research, you may be reading everything from major works to obscure snippets from rare archives. Your research will likely take unexpected turns that could reveal an entirely new path to your argument’s direction. When students are truly passionate about their work, the hours of dedication and abrupt changes will be easier to navigate.
When choosing a dissertation topic, try to narrow in on a subject that is both popular but that hasn’t been flooded with writing. For example, writing on Shakespeare has been done to death and finding something new to say that can be stretched into a dissertation would be difficult. Your dissertation will likely lead to much of the research you will do in your professional career ahead. When you seek employment in university departments, your work and its subject matter will pull weight. Choose a subject that isn’t mainstream and that leans more to the obscure. It should also have relevance to the more popular facets of the field.
Imagine a Crystal Ball
The subject of your dissertation should be able to provide threads to more popular and current projects in the field. For example, in 2002 best-selling author Patricia Cornwell paid a visit to University of Reading, England to research the painter and art critic Walter Sickert. Her newest book would argue that Sickert was Victorian serial killer Jack the Ripper. In 2003, when Cornwell’s book was released, a boom was seen in writings on Sickert that emerged from grad students and established scholars alike.
By paying attention to current research being conducted by well-known writers and researchers, you can gaze into a crystal ball and better predict the scholarly subjects of the following year that will be hot, popular and in the news.
Finding the Right Dissertation Adviser
Expect the relationship with your dissertation adviser to be one of close bonding, enlightenment and frustration. When considering a potential adviser, get to know him and get a grasp as to whether you can see yourself working through a range of emotions with him offering advice. Ensure that the professor is motivated and has extensive knowledge on your subject. Your adviser should also be published in the field or have given lectures on it. Consider the professor’s pull with the department and research institutes. Ensure that the adviser challenges you to think in new directions while grasping your current stance.
- Keith Brofsky/Photodisc/Getty Images