I am a senior software engineer with experience in product management (which makes me addicted to proposing new features!). Now, I am an early-career researcher, and I am still looking at my PhD research as a product. This means I keep jumping between ideas and proposals, while the original idea (the big picture) is still the same one I started with. However, even after one year, I am still not clear about the scope. I am unsure about it. Any advice on how to manage this issue?

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    I'm in mathematics (at a research-oriented uni in the U.S.), so my experience may not be soooo relevant for you... However, with my PhD students, and in my own projects, it is actually desirable, and is inevitable, that with the information acquired along the way, the visible possibilities simply change. :) Commented Jan 26 at 18:56
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    @paulgarrett do you mean it is a feature not a bug (programmer's silly joke:) Commented Jan 26 at 19:25
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    A PhD that plodded along doing exactly what one originally thought would be very boring.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Jan 26 at 19:42
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    @AdhamEnaya, haha! Yes, definitely a feature, not a bug. :) Commented Jan 26 at 19:56
  • This seems like a question for your advisor. Set a scope with them and do enough for the degree. You can fly free thereafter.
    – Buffy
    Commented Jan 26 at 19:57

1 Answer 1


To expand on my comment, which is to do "enough" for the degree and move on, let me suggest the following.

Keep a notebook. My preference is a set of notecards, actually that are originally sparse, but which can be revisited. When you get a flash for something that might be added to your project, just make a note of it in the notebook (leaving room for later edits). This is your "future work" cache and can later become the "work in progress" agenda.

Set a scope for the dissertation with the advisor and stick to it (as much as possible/appropriate) and spill the rest into the notebook.

When you finish the degree you have a lot of ideas that might be followed up, which is always a benefit to any academic.

It is a good idea to also review the notebook periodically to see if anything might be added without disturbing progress on the main line too much. That is why I like notecards. They can be carried and quickly annotated. Search here for "Hipster PDA" to read more on this idea.

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