The First Steps: Choosing a Topic and a Thesis Supervisor
There are two key choices you must make when you embark on your thesis: choosing a topic and choosing a supervisor.
Choosing a topic
A research topic can be very broad - you have not yet developed a specific research question but instead, have an expansive area of interest. Here are some tips for choosing a successful thesis topic:
Let your interests guide you. This project will consume a considerate amount of your time during your junior and senior years, so pick a topic that you are genuinely interested in and committed to exploring. Think about interesting topics or readings from your coursework—what caught your attention?
Pay attention to your social world. Look to the media, news outlets, your friends - what issues are people debating now? What questions need answering?
Think of this as a chance to do something totally new. Is there a course you wish that the School of Hospitality Management offered about a certain topic? What research questions follow from that topic?
Engage with current or past research. See what has been done. Look at journals like the Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Research, the Cornell Hospitality Quarterly, and the International Journal of Hospitality Management. What topics have they covered recently? What can you add to the debate?
Your research topic does not have to be specific yet. Do some brainstorming—write down 5 to 10 topics that interest you. Talk with friends and professors to see which topics are the most interesting (and could provide the starting point for a strong thesis). Once you have decided on a topic, you are ready for the next step.
Choosing a thesis supervisor
Once you’ve identified the broad subject area you are interested in exploring, you should think about who to choose as a thesis supervisor. Any graduate faculty member of the School of Hospitality Management may serve as a thesis supervisor. A list of the current graduate faculty members is provided in the Appendix. We have one research center within the School of Hospitality Management, the Center for Food Innovation. If you work with this center as part of your thesis work, you should plan, consistent with best practices across laboratories in the College of Health and Human Development, to choose a faculty member other than personnel from the center to be your thesis supervisor. However, it is assumed you will also work closely with personnel from the center during the completion of your thesis work.
There are several ways to go about choosing a thesis supervisor. One strategy is to consider professors in whose courses you have been or are enrolled. Is your thesis topic relevant to their research interests? A second strategy is to look on the School of Hospitality Management website for a listing of faculty members and their research interests (/shm/directory/BioList.aspx). You can also think about interesting articles or books you’ve read in your coursework. Finally, you can meet with the School’s honors adviser to brainstorm about who a suitable thesis supervisor might be.
Once you have identified a potential thesis supervisor, you must ask him or her to advise the thesis! This should take place during the fall or spring semester of your junior year. Before approaching potential supervisors, do some brainstorming on your own. For your own use, write a brief description of your potential topics and 2-3 more specific research questions. When you meet with a potential supervisor, you do not yet need to have a definitive research question. This is something a thesis supervisor will help with.
You should set up appointments to discuss the thesis with potential supervisors. Send them an email requesting a meeting to discuss the possibility that they advise your thesis. Include the description of your topic. When you have scheduled a meeting, present your potential topic and ask them if they would be interested in advising it. If you are still working on developing your specific research question, ask for their advice or feedback on your potential research questions.
Examples of the questions to ask during your first meeting with a potential supervisor:
- How promising do you find my research topic?
- Are there particular directions you think I should explore in developing a research question?
- How often do you like to meet with advisees?
- How many drafts are you willing to read? How many days do you require to read a draft?
- What is your preferred method of maintaining regular contact?
- Do you have any books or journal articles that you think I need to read before our next meeting?
 Note that a topic is a broad subject area while a research question is much narrower. A research question is a specific problem or question within a given subject area that can be addressed within the approximate 1.5-year time frame given over to the thesis A research question is typically tested with empirical data.