Generating a research topic sometimes relies on multiple sources of inspiration. Doing all or a combination of the following is likely to help you develop some preliminary ideas:
Think about your interests and strengths
Research can be about you. Ideas for research topics frequently stem from personal experiences or threads that run through a person’s professional life. Don’t discount your own experiences or flashes of inspiration. Quiet insight often leads to significant breakthroughs.
Ideas are frequently generated from conversations with colleagues. It’s important to seize opportunities to:
- Talk to colleagues
- Present at conferences
- Review papers
- Sit on panels & advisory councils
- Contact national/international figures in your areas of interest
Considering what others want and might pay for may not be the same as generating a radical new idea but it’s a good start. You can take an entrepreneurial approach to your research and work with a private company that will supply the imaginative leap and/or read through request for proposals from the federal government to develop a creative spark.
Utilize the Grants Resource Center to browse agency profiles and funded projects. Familiarize yourself with the types of projects they like to fund. Of course, collaborate with our office for guidance. The Office of Sponsored Programs welcomes all opportunities to share and learn.
Pick up where others left off
New research can arise from old research. Sometimes saying a study is finished is misleading. Findings published in journal articles aren’t always as tidy as presented and this provides an opportunity to generate new ideas based off an existing one. Whenever you read, evaluate, or listen, ask yourself:
- Where did he/she draw the ideas?
- What was accomplished?
- How does it relate to other work?
- What would be a reasonable next step to build upon?
- What ideas could be brought in to expand upon the topic?
The initial idea is sometimes quite far from the final topic. If you remain open and flexible, it will usually be much easier to generate alternative topics.
Volunteer as a reviewer
One of the best ways to learn about the grants making process is to volunteer to work as a peer reviewer for federal grants programs. There is often a small stipend associated with the review process. See “Become a Peer Reviewer” for further information.