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I have a MSci in Social and Cultural Anthropology. While doing the masters, I chose a thesis topic that I ended up hating. I finished the thesis regardless and graduated with merit.

I want to now apply for a PhD, but I don't want to continue down the path of the masters thesis topic, instead choosing something I studied in a course in the program, but didn't write a thesis for (I did write some related essays on it, and took a related course on it).

Also the two topics would be in latin america, dealing with women (just different groups of women, one was urban women in brazil, the PhD topic would involve indigenous women in Guyana). I can certainly find some overlaps, though it might be a stretch of the imagination.

What do you think? How important is it that the masters topic overlap with the phd topic?

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There is no such requirement unless imposed by some advisor that you might carry through with from the masters to the doctorate. But even then it is not essential in concept.

You are free to explore new directions, and it is probably a good idea to do so. Assuming the common case in which you have a different advisor, or even if you are at a different university, take some (maybe a lot) direction from your new advisor. If you have your own ideas, explore them with the advisor. If you are more tentative, the typical case, look for suggestions from them about directions you might pursue. Perhaps the ideas will be in line with the general research trajectory of the advisor in such situations.

And this isn't true just in anthropology.

It is also important that if you are going to do serious research in some topic, that you have some affinity for that - it needn't be love exactly, but it is better if you are driven internally by the questions, rather than just following a script.


Danger. Danger. Don't over stress my words just above. Be in love with the topic. But don't be driven to preconceived notions that you want to be true. Research is a search for truth. Be in love with the search, whatever emerges as the truth.

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  • Thank you so much - that's really good feedback. – fangulina Nov 3 '19 at 18:15

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