I am a big believer that students are much more motivated to do long(er) research papers when they are studying a topic that they like. I tell my students that picking a research paper topic is a little like the difference between dating and marriage. When you’re dating (and arguably when you’re married looking at divorce rates), you can break up if you are tired of the relationship or for whatever reason you deem meaningful (or not, as the case may be). When you’re married, well, it’s more complicated.
Choosing a research topic in the undergraduate course I teach is similar. Because you have one topic for the whole semester, I tell my students “Choose carefully. Even IF you like your topic, you never want to hear about video gaming, historical portrayals of dictators, violence in video games, etc. by the end of the semester you will be SICK of your topic… so imagine if you start out not liking your topic.” And I will say, statistically there is a strong correlation between students who treat picking a topic like a joke and those who drop the class.
I also think that very few things lie outside the realm of “academia” now, especially when I see course advertisements at elite universities for “An Ethnographic Study of NYC Club Culture” or “Pirates of the Caribbean: An Overview of Historical Pirates”, etc. which makes the playing field wide open. This means that my students work on projects like: case studies of people who play World of Warcraft, the impact of violence in the media on young children, the influence of movies on young adult reading habits, tourism in the ‘Stan, youth addiction, housing issues, mixed marriages, the portrayal of Hitler in historical textbooks, the ideal age to get married and other sundry topics.
Last semester, I had a student who very seriously said, “Dr. X, I want to write about yogurt making.” This was better than his initial topic “Dr. X, I want to write about the 50 different ways to use a pencil.” Erm, ok student… even that is a bit of a stretch for me. Let’s go with yogurt. Why not? Although he eventually wound up dropping out of school later that semester for personal reasons but I tried to be supportive of his research topic even though my colleagues and his classmates thought he (and by extension, I) was crazy and that it was not “academic” enough.
In a bookstore in IST, guess what I found? A whole book about, yes, you guessed it, yogurt. This just goes for prove my hypothesis that nothing is really off limits for academics, that anyone can basically publish about anything, and that even YOGURT could be a subject for research. Validation. Love it. 🙂
On a different note, Turks really do love their kaymak.