Selecting an Unexplored Biology PhD Thesis Topic

How do you select a PhD thesis? How do you select a PhD thesis in Biology? There are so many topics and so many that have not been researched enough. A doctoral student can’t just throw a dart at a board and say, “that’s the one.” 

Careful Consideration and Conversation

The student’s mentor should help guide him or her down a path but never push or design the topic for him or her. It is one of the most important decisions a PhD candidate will make and it cannot be something that a year down the road is regretted. Biology is a critically studied topic and how does one decide what is unexplored? It is really a matter of deciding if there is another way to look at a subject. Can a dissertation turn the corner on an already deeply studied topic? 

It is so important to discuss the topic with mentors and who may end up on the dissertation committee. They can push a student to look beyond the mirror, see into it and find the real burning question. 

What Does it Contribute

The topic should be original and by original, it can be a new look at an old topic:

  • Cancer - esophageal cancer is rising and almost undetectable until it has spread to other organs and is almost untreatable. One in 125 men will be diagnosed with this disease this year and the treatments for it are few and far between.
  • Papilledema - swelling of the optic nerve causing blindness over time. There are two treatments, one is medication that is miserable and the other is surgery (other optic nerve fenestration or a shunt). 
  • Female baldness - not sure if this is new or old but it is real. More and more women are being diagnosed with alopecia or even female pattern baldness. Why can’t researches come up with something to cure it? 

Newer topics include items such as: 

  • Intracranial Hypertension - why do women in childbearing years who are overweight have a hard time dispensing Cerebral Spinal Fluid? Why won’t it just go away, like with everyone else? What does weight have to do with it?
  • Antibiotic resistance - will reducing the number of antibiotics doctors give out reduce the problem with bacteria resistant to antibiotics? Or is it time to look to nature for cures?

Make a Difference

The subject of a dissertation should be one that makes a difference. It should not repeat someone else’s work. It can add to the knowledge base or it can deviate from what is known into a completely different direction. The key is, that it must be something that can stand alone and isn’t reliant on someone else’s work to exist completely.  This work should mean something to someone, even if it is two people in the world with one really rare disease. The PhD student could make a huge difference.