Q: Can you advise me on how to choose and research a PhD topic in the direction of Design Space Exploration (DSE)?

Detailed Question -

I am a recently enrolled PhD student. I want to do research in the direction of the DSE of embedded systems. However, I am stuck/confused because I don't know where to start. I would like advice on whether it is a good topic to choose for research, and any other advice on carrying out the research. I would be immensely thankful if I get some advice. Please do the needful.

1 Answer to this question

Congrats on commencing your PhD journey! You must be both excited and nervous – and that seems to come through in your query. :) No worries, help is at hand, or rather below…

So, the first and most important step in embarking upon your dissertation journey is selecting the topic. Once you choose a topic, the research questions follow. It is totally understandable that you feel confused and stuck while deciding the direction of research or framing the research questions, because this choice will shape your academic career both in the short term and the long term. You could consider the following approach (which would be applicable irrespective of the field of study).

  1. Start generating ideas for your specific topic and question(s). Browse academic or popular science articles that recently interested you. Look for a niche where you can offer something new to the field (what is called research novelty). Can you think of a problem in the field that you would like to know more about or solve? What are keywords or key concepts that interest you? Use those to kickstart relevant searches in the literature. Avoid topics that have been addressed and steer clear of simply building on previous research.
  2. Read broad summaries of general articles on the top topics you are considering. Recent review articles on the subject will provide the ideal springboard for ideas. Once you get an overview, see how your idea relates to narrower issues. Streamline a broad topic by narrowing the focus using various parameters, for instance, the type of design space you are considering, whether you want to use existing algorithms to solve a problem or develop new algorithms, and possible applications (e.g., applications of DSE in architecture, IoT devices, image processing, synthetic biology).
  3. Define your topic as a focused research question and keep finetuning it. Begin with some keywords and then frame questions around the topic. Consider the following as an example for this step:
  • List some key concepts/ideas: DSE, biosensors, multifunctional material
  • Build a potential research question: “DSE, simulation, and automated assembly of multifunctional biosensors”

Note that the selection of a topic and/or research question is a dynamic process: be prepared to modify your topic as your research unfolds. It is possible that you will end up deciding that some other aspect of the topic is more interesting or feasible to perform.

One last tip: Actively seek (constructive) feedback from peers and experts and incorporate ideas and suggestions that you receive.

Additionally, you may find the below resources helpful for your PhD journey:

Hope that helps. All the best for choosing your topic and beginning your PhD life!