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    How do people come up with research proposals?

    I'm thinking of applying for an MPhil in International Political Theory in St Andrews. It's a two year course, the first year spent doing coursework, the second doing a dissertation.

    The thing is, one of the application requirements is a 500 word research proposal. It would make a lot more sense to me to do the first year and then decide on a topic, but hey, what do I know?

    Anyways, how binding is a proposal? How do people who aren't sure what they want to do come up with them?
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    Do some general reading in an area which interests you. Hopefully you have a particular interest which drew you to the MPhil in the first place. Think about some of the issues being debated or research, and do some more specified reading. People often seem to hope a proposal will just 'form', but for a decent one there really is no way around it other than doing a bit of reading. In many cases, especially if you've done an undergraduate degree in the subject, you may already be very familiar with your area of subject.

    Anywho, once you've identified an important issue or debate, look into the bibliography involved and pursue it from there.

    Hope that helps.
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    As Haloface said - do some general reading in a sub-area that interests you, make some notes do some mind-mapping and hopefully you will come up with something. If not, then do the same thing after a few glasses of wine. Then, identify a potential supervisor at St. Andrews and email them with your ideas and see what they say.

    As for how 'binding' proposals are - not really at all. Projects change because you don't have the answers when you write the proposal (if you did, then it wouldn't be worth doing the project...) Having said that, if you are accepted with a proposal on implications of Responsibility to Protect Doctrine and want to change to something on ongoing political influence of neo-Stalinist Russia then your department and supervisor will probably have something to say about it.
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    The system for research proposals - especially the way you have to plan your PhD topic before you even start your Masters if you want a shot at funding - is very intellectually dishonest. Speaking for history, you can't possibly know what your conclusions will be until you have done some serious source work (therefore even the basic shape of your project ought yet to be decided), yet for AHRC applications you basically have to write as if you have already done said source work, preferably embellishing the spiel to make it fit into whatever area of research is 'sexy' at that point in time (a good bet at the moment is to tag '... and Islam.' on the end of your provisional title).
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    The research proposal is part of the application process because you have to demonstrate that you have the potential for independent research not just being taught. They don't want to find out at the end of the first year that you don't have the type of mind that is enquiring and can structure a reasoned and reasonable line of academic enquiry.

    Pick a subject you are interested in and prepare a research proposal. It won't be binding, although as previously noted, try to keep it in the general area of your interests other wise you might find yourself in the wrong department with the wrong supervisor if you lurch from R2P to neo-Stalinist Russia.
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    I think in most subjects you would struggle to see what conclusions you might be able to draw before you do a substantial amount of ground work (and to admit that you are not sure about what conclusions you might reach is impossible if you want to receive funding!), and in a lot of saturated areas you will need an even higher level of knowledge in order to see the gaps, and in this sense I agree with King_Duncan's comment about intellectual dishonesty.

    I would be highly surprised, however, if the proposal you are writing is for the dissertation per se, but rather for funding reasons or to give them an idea about the area they would have to supervise you in.
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    (Original post by King_Duncan)
    The system for research proposals - especially the way you have to plan your PhD topic before you even start your Masters if you want a shot at funding - is very intellectually dishonest.
    That's my problem with the whole application system: I would love to do a PhD next year, but I don't really have time to come up with a proposal while working on my MA. I'm thinking that I'll just leave it until next year (entry 2012) and use my dissertation as research for my PhD proposal.

    Now I just need to find something to do on my year out!
 
 
 
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