I personally turned to music in my early school years, even before piano lessons, because I found I could sit at the piano and play every popular tune that I knew, along with the harmonies that I apparently heard along with the tunes.Once in college, I developed what has been my lifelong scholarly musical interest, and that is the relationship between theory and practice.
It would be naïve not to add some of the more practical considerations that also help students and scholars to thrive: It needs to be a topic of potential interest to others in the field, not necessarily the “latest fashion,” but at least on themes that have proven to be compelling.
And it needs to take into account the dissertation as a genre, meaning a work that makes an original contribution to the field, but by no means striving to be the definitive word on the subject.
How do you home in on a topic that will prove engaging and fruitful, while avoiding dead ends?
How do you know that what fascinates you today will be fascinating three years from now?
Much of my work has revolved around the figure of Jean-Philippe Rameau, who was both a leading theorist and composer.
I keep hearing very similar tales from graduate students: once they find a topic they thoroughly enjoy and acquire the necessary skills to tackle, they seem to thrive as scholars.
The more committee members who “own” a part of your topic, the more who will support your defense, leading you toward appropriate publication. Some projects may be completed in one year, while others may take two years or longer.
Select a topic that will be manageable within the selected deadline parameter.
What roadblocks did you encounter, and what surprises?
Surviving the Dissertation Get tips and advice on everything from finding a mentor and choosing a topic to getting your writing done.