- By Jason Bacot
- Published 02/22/2011
If you’re in a doctoral program, you may feel as if your dissertation looms over every aspect of your life, and that’s before you’ve even decided on a topic! Once you have a general direction you want to go with your research, you may want to keep a research journal to help you keep track of what interests you and where your learning is taking you. Ideas can come to you at any time, whether you’re in the classroom or on the train home from the lab. But that doesn’t mean that your every waking moment has to be consumed with thinking about your dissertation. In fact, it’s far better if you have a life apart from your dissertation and its research, even if that “life” is rather limited while you’re in the thick of your work. Keeping a journal and a pen with you at all times is a great way to record those ideas that come up at odd times, and to make sure you are not consumed with having to remember them. You could be engaged in something totally unrelated to your work, such as buying groceries, and have an idea bubble up to the surface. If you have your research journal with you, get it out, and write down your idea in a sentence or two. Then it’s OK if your mind drifts back to the task at hand, because you can easily go back to your research journal later.
Your research journal doesn’t have to make sense to anyone else but you, because it’s for you. In your journal you can write down int
eresting questions, problems and possible solutions, the names of references that could be valuable to read, and notes on things that you read in the course of your class work. The best time to start keeping a research journal is as soon as you start graduate school, to get yourself into the habit. You can start well before you have a dissertation topic in mind. Your notes can help you greatly as you figure out what the focus of your dissertation will be. Write freely and put things in your own words, because your only audience is you. As an adjunct to your research journal (but not a substitute for it), you can keep a collection of bookmark folders on your favorite web browser for things that you run across online that feed your research interest. Give your bookmarks names that are meaningful to you, because the default names picked by the browser are not always informative, and you could easily forget what a link is about. In your reading for your course work, keep your research journal handy. When you come across an interesting fact or reference, make note of it in your journal. Write down the topic, how the topic was studied, and what sort of findings came from the study of the topic. Make note of any suggested references for further research.
Keeping a research journal and referring to it as you form the plan for your dissertation research can help you draw together many sources of information, ensuring that you make a unique, well-researched contribution to your field of research.