The First Steps: Choosing a Topic and a Thesis Supervisor
There are two key choices you must make when you embark on your thesis: choosing a topic and choosing a supervisor.
Choosing a Topic
A research topic can be very broad - you have not yet developed a specific research question but instead have identified a general area of interest*. Here are some tips for choosing a successful thesis topic:
Let your interests guide you. This project will consume a considerate amount of your time during your junior and senior years, so pick a topic that you are genuinely interested in and committed to exploring. Think about interesting topics or readings from your coursework—what caught your attention?
Pay attention to your social world. Look to the media, news outlets, your friends—what issues are people debating now within the field of recreation, park and tourism management? What questions need answering?
Think of your thesis as an opportunity to explore and address a research question that is totally new. Is there a course you wish that the Recreation, Park and Tourism Management Department offered about a certain topic? What research questions would follow from that topic?
Engage with current or past research. See what has been done already within and outside of the field. Look at journals like Leisure Sciences, Journal of Park and Recreation Administration, Tourism Management, Journal of Leisure Research, Journal of Sustainable Tourism, etc. What topics have they covered recently? What can you add to the debate or body-of-knowledge?
Your research topic does not have to be specific yet. Do some brainstorming—write down 5 to 10 topics that interest you. Talk with friends and professors to see which topics are the most interesting (and could provide the starting point for a strong thesis). Once you have decided on a topic, you are ready for the next step.
NOTE: RPTM Honors students are strongly encouraged to enroll in RPTM 530 (Research Methods) during their 4th or 5th semester. This class, which is typically offered in the fall semester, provides students with a basic framework for identifying their thesis topic, posing more specific research questions/hypotheses, and proposing a method to gather and interpret data. Through this class, students are not only exposed to the process and principles of scholarly research, but are also tasked with developing a formal thesis proposal (working in conjunction with their thesis supervisor).
Choosing a Thesis Supervisor
Once you’ve identified the broad subject area you are interested in exploring, you should think about who to choose as a thesis supervisor. Any graduate faculty member of the Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Management may serve as a thesis supervisor and it’s a good idea to meet with several faculty members to identify areas of shared interests. A list of the current graduate faculty members is provided in the Appendix.
There are several ways to go about choosing a thesis supervisor. One strategy is to consider professors in whose courses you have been or are enrolled. Is your thesis topic relevant to their research interests? A second strategy is to look on the Department website for a listing of faculty members and their research interests (/rptm/directory/BioList.aspx). You can also think about interesting articles or books you’ve read in your coursework. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you should meet with the Department’s honors adviser to brainstorm about who a suitable thesis supervisor might be.
Once you have identified a potential thesis supervisor, you must ask him or her to supervise your thesis! This should take place during fall or spring semester of your junior year. Before approaching potential supervisors, do some brainstorming on your own. For your own use, write a brief description of your potential topics and 2-3 more specific research questions. When you meet with a potential supervisor, you do not yet need to have a definitive research question. This is something a thesis supervisor can help you with.
You should set up appointments to discuss the thesis with potential supervisors. Send them an email requesting a meeting to discuss the possibility that they advise your thesis. Include the description of your topic. When you have scheduled a meeting, present your potential topic and ask them if they would be interested in advising it. If you are still working on developing your specific research question, ask for their advice or feedback on your potential research questions.
Examples of the questions to ask during your first meeting with a potential supervisor:
- How promising do you find my research topic? Are there particular directions you think I should explore in developing a research question?
- How often do you like to meet with advisees?
- How many drafts are you willing to read? How many days do you require to read a draft?
- Do you prefer to receive written work or an agenda from you me to meetings?
- Do you have any books or journal articles that you think I need to read before our next meeting?
*Note that a topic is a broad subject area while a research question is much narrower. A research question is a specific problem or question within a given subject area that can be addressed within the approximate 1.5 year time frame given over to the thesis A research question can tested with empirical data or explored through qualitative or interpretive methods.