So, you want to get a master’s degree?

By Marie-Pierre Renaud

You’re interested in a topic and you’d like to start a master’s degree to be able to explore it. Great! But where to begin?

Before you start filling out applications for universities, there are two very important things you need to do:

1. You need to clarify what you’ll work on, and this is what I’ll address here;

2. Decide whom you want to work with, which I’ll discuss in a different post, Finding a Supervisor.

Narrow it down

You want to do research on video games… Can you be more specific?

One common mistake among students is to pick a topic that is excessively broad. You can’t simply do a master’s degree on video games. You can, however, study community building in a specific guild in World of Warcraft, for example. Ask yourself these questions: Who? What? Where? And when? The last question is particularly important but often forgotten. Yet there’s a big difference between, say, the cheating methods of gamers nowadays as opposed to those of 15 years ago.

You may not able to clarify what you want to work on at first. This is one of many reasons why you need to start reading.

Read lots and lots

PTOLOMEO bookcase, design by Bruno Rainaldi

PTOLOMEO bookcase, design by Bruno Rainaldi

You might find the topic you’re interested in amazingly new and fascinating. But before you start emailing professors, ask yourself if someone else may have previously researched it. Chances are there’s a lot of books and papers already available to you. Find out what research has already been conducted, by whom, in what discipline and with what conclusions. Also ask yourself what’s missing from the picture, or if you think something hasn’t been properly addressed.

This will help you select a topic that is fresh and create a research project that is innovative, contributes to science (even if only a little) or highlights problems in previous research.

In fact, you may realize that the research that is already existent can be the topic of your project: you could study how has the research been conducted and by whom, if the orientations or the profile of the researchers have changed over time, write a critique of certain specific works, etc.

Don’t limit yourself to the exploration of the research conducted in the field you’ve chosen.

The most relevant research may have been conducted in psychology even if you choose to study anthropology: don’t disregard it and see how you can use it. You may adopt a multidisciplinary approach or even decide to study in a different field.

Is all this work worth it?

This research might seem demanding to simply determine what you’ll work on, but it’s the best investment you can make for your project. You’ll need to review literature as you begin your master’s degree in any case, and having a clear idea of what you want to research will save you a lot of time and worries while some of your colleagues will still be wondering what exactly they should work on.

You’ll also avoid bothering people with questions they’ve already been asked by other researchers, and your work will stand out if it approaches something new. Additionally, you can always use your survey of the literature to eventually publish a bibliography, commented on not, or a short article about the literature you reviewed.

Of course, in order for your efforts to be most productive, it’s best to adopt a solid methodology. Check this previous post about how to create a database or bibliography.

I hope this helps!

About Marie-Pierre Renaud

I am an anthropologist living in Quebec city, Canada. I specialize in native studies and anthropology of health. I am a geek. I founded and now co-manage The Geek Anthropologist blog. I am working on transforming my memoir into a book and journal articles. I like to knit while watching Star Trek. Reach out to me for collaborations!

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