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Just curious as to the effects of publishing a mediocre PHD thesis:

After sitting down and taking a cold, detached, look at my thesis topic, I realized I was given a pair of coobook-style problems, i.e., in order to answer the questions I was given to answer, I just need to go over a list of requirements and see if the general results apply to my specific problems. Instead of research level, the problems I was given look more like exercises at the end of a book; a graduate-level book, but still, cookbook.

Question: Once I am done with this, which shouldn't take more than a few months, how will this look to anyone going over the thesis? Since I will be having some extra time, I am considering doing some extra research and tacking it into the thesis. Is there something else I can do?

I suspect my advisor may not have a very high opinion of me and thought I could not likely handle anything more complicated. This itself brings issues as to the recommendations I may receive when someone asks my advisor for a recommendation.

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    Have you been publishing your results in decent conferences/journals? – Austin Henley Dec 11 '14 at 20:56
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    As a PhD student, you should be trying to do research that you find interesting. This is not necessarily just a matter of following your advisor's instructions. It's convenient if it is, but if it is not, then you should take the opportunity to learn how to select topics for yourself and become an independent researcher. You will need to do this after the PhD anyway, so why not before? – Trevor Wilson Dec 11 '14 at 21:17
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    So it makes more sense to let someone more experienced--your advisor--select the topic initially. — [citation needed] And what if your advisor selects a research topic that goes nowhere? Recovering from blind alleys is an integral part of the research process. – JeffE Dec 12 '14 at 4:24
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    @NeedBetterThesis. From my own personal experience, my students are significantly better off developing their own research problems than having me assign them. – JeffE Dec 12 '14 at 4:36
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    And ther's a huge soectrum between an advisor assigning a problem and the student needing no help. Advisors are supposed to advise. – JeffE Dec 12 '14 at 4:37
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A PhD is documentation that you can do your own research. You don't have to take what you're given. That said, maybe your advisor considers the "toy problems" a warmup for more advanced research? You should talk to your advisor and also to other faculty members you trust. Let them know that you are concerned your topic may be weak. Perhaps they will have some ideas on how you can make it stronger. Depending on the outcome of these discussions, you may want to shop around for a different advisor who is a better fit for you, both in research interests and personality. The key is to take charge of your own dissertation.

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You sound like you're at the very early stages of the research process. Perhaps these problems are not as simple as they appear to be.

In any case, I think you're fretting prematurely. If your research topic ends up being less-than-stellar, you'll have plenty of opportunities to redeem yourself by doing more exciting work after you're done. To answer your question, I don't think a "mediocre" thesis topic would have long-lasting effects on your overall reputation, which will ultimately be judged by a much larger body of work.

From one of your comments:

if you select a research project that goes nowhere, you may end up going through the rabbit hole, and end up without a PhD

This could happen if the project is too easy; this could happen if the problem is too hard. This could happen if someone else is doing research right now that will nullify your results before you're done. This could happen if you get burned out and don't finish your work. In some respects, completing a PhD is like a minefield; it's fraught with risk.

You can switch advisors, switch topics, or start doing the work your advisor assigned. Unless you have more than a hunch that this work will be fruitless, I'd recommend starting with the task you've been assigned, and not letting fears of your reputation 10 years down the road paralyze you from getting underway.

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