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(This question is one of three correlated questions: Can I get enough help? (first part), How should I do it? (second part).This is the third part.)

I am an undergraduate student (in Computer Science and Engineering) and I will be starting undergraduate research for my thesis. I have talked with many professors about possible projects and all the projects they proposed to me seemed interesting enough.

During summer, though, I read a paper and I was very interested and excited about it, but this paper was not for the projects that were proposed to me, but in a different area. I would like to do research in this area but I have some questions, because none of my professor is doing research in this particular field.

So, my questions are:

  1. What are the downsides of choosing my own project instead of doing a project that a professor is working right now (with his Ph.D. students)?

  2. How harder will it be to get something good out of it (in comparison with doing a proposed project)?

P.S. I want to understand whether it will be beneficial to do a project that I want to do because of some paper(s) that I read or it will be better to do a project that was proposed to me. Also, I would like to go for a Ph.D. after I graduate.

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    Nominated for re-opening, not sure why this was downvoted or closed. It's entirely relevant to research. Meta discussion going on here. – eykanal Oct 15 '13 at 12:29
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Along the lines of earthling's answer, you do have a strong say in your topic, and you'll definitely want to be interested in the topic as you'll be putting a lot of work into it.

However, do realize that, as an undergraduate, you have far less experience in doing research than your advisor. You will save yourself a tremendous amount of work and effort by working closely with him on your project. One way to ensure that your advisor will be willing to invest that time in you is to work on a project that (1) interests him and (2) is related to his research. Even better, both. You are definitely free to choose whatever project you want, but it would be a good idea to choose something on which he can offer his expertise.

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In my experience the topic is normally self-chosen. Your adviser might have some ideas but generally the research (and subsequent writing) requires a significant amount of work.

Because of the amount of work involved, if you are not excited by the topic it might be difficult to follow through with the amount of work required. This might be less true for undergraduate theses but at the graduate level, you will need to really spent a lot of time and, therefore, maintaining motivation can be a challenge.

Of course, if your adviser has some ideas that person might be more willing and able to provide support for you.

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    This is probably depending on the field and/or the habits of the group/supervisor/department. There are theses where the general subject is set beforehand and can only be changed if it turns out that the project cannot be done for some reason. – cbeleites unhappy with SX Oct 15 '13 at 14:34
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I would like to answer you as a senior undergraduate computer science student.

I wanted to do research (I had no prior research experience, so I asked an instructor for support for research. He gave me a topic, I found it OK, and I began to learn about the field and work on an existing paper.

Yet in 2 months I realized that I lacked motivation to go on because that field was completely out of my interests and what I have always wanted was something else. ( I couldn't choose that as my research topic because there was nobody with that field's knowledge)

Research requires deep knowledge and unless you are completely interested in that area, you might find it hard to continue after some point. You should really love and embrace it.

But of course, everyone is different. Yet I strongly advice that if you are gonna work on something, make sure you are really interested in it and not doing it just for the sake of doing research. It can harm your motivation and discourage you from being a determined scientist.

It will definitely be harder to get something out of it as your instructors don't know the topic. If the aim is to get fruitful results, you should choose one of the proposed topics. If your main aim is to develop yourself in an area that will contribute to your personal desires, it is better to choose your own topic.

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