So you’ve decided to come back to uni next year to do Honours. But how do you choose a topic for your Honours project?
The first issue to consider is that most employers don’t care at all about what you study in your project. We barely care that you’ve done Honours. Most Honours theses aren’t worth the paper they’re written on, just like most PhD theses are so minutely arcane that they will have zero relevance to the vast body of employers.
So from a career perspective, the key issue is that choosing to undertake an Honours project is that it (a) gives you some exposure to literature searching and self-directed research, and (b) gives you the opportunity to develop some basic skills that may be useful in the workplace. The value isn’t what you study, but how you study it and what you learn from the experience.
I can’t possibly tell you what to study, but I can tell you how to choose:
1. Pick a topic that genuinely interests you.
Passion and drive are two of the key characteristics that employers most look for in graduates. The ability to talk with passion and enthusiasm about your project topic is of much more importance to the employer than the topic you are discussing.
2. Make sure that you can clearly articulate what you are trying to achieve in the project, and how you are going to achieve it.
A fundamental problem for students is that many of the topics they are presented with are barely more developed than a title. The academic has no clear idea of what they want from the project, and if the academic doesn’t know, how is the student supposed to know?
For the purposes of study, your success will come much more easily if you and your supervisor clearly understand the nature, scope and method of the project.
For the purposes of employment, you need to be able to clearly articulate the project, its outcomes, and what you learned. The ability to communicate clearly and succinctly will be one of the major factors by which any candidate is judged for employment purposes.
So ‘start as you mean to go on’. If you can’t describe it now, don’t just hope that you will be able to do so later.
3. Choose a supervisor with whom you have a good working relationship and who is not too busy to deal with you.
When I did my Honours, my supervisor was Head of School. A great and inspirational man, I idolised him and couldn’t think of anyone better. But through no fault of his own, he didn’t have the time for me that I needed, and my project suffered. To this day, I don’t know whether my Honours project conclusion was sheer genius, or so obvious that nobody had bothered to write about it before. Probably the latter.
Ultimately, beyond the sheer joy of research science, your Honours year is substantially about increasing your employability. But it isn’t the project itself that achieves that end. It is the lessons that you learn that you can articulate, and the behaviours that you demonstrate.
Remember: The best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour. Employers want you to show them about yourself, not tell them.