For every new graduate student, the first major headache is what their dissertation will be about. In many areas of science, graduate students have very little choice. The laboratory leader essentially assigns a topic to the student, based on funding requirements and the laboratory structure.
However, in ecology, evolution and behavior, most laboratories still work on the principle that each graduate student must develop their own thesis topic. Of course this is done in consultation with their dissertation supervisor, and it is often closely associated with other research that is being done by others in the laboratory. It may even form a part of the larger project of the laboratory. However, the student must develop the questions. In this post, I want to discuss the two main ways that students in these disciplines approach this most important of problems for them.