Thesis topics and research questions
Research is motivated by questions. Whether you are doing a literature review or producing original research, it is crucial to be clear about what the research question is. (Usually one is the right number of research questions in an MSc thesis). To determine whether a question is interesting, it is worth considering what would be the use of a credible and precise answer if you (or the literature that you review) obtained it? The hypothetical "user(s)" may be firms, governments, other organizations, or consumers.
The thesis must allow you to show learnedness in Economics. ("Opinnäyte" = "Demonstration of learnedness"). It is not meant to show your learnedness in all aspects and all fields of economics. In particular, there is no need to include both theory and empirical sections in every thesis. Original research and original literature reviews are equally meritorious. However, there needs to be some part in every thesis that addresses the main research question while going deeper into the subject from at least one angle in a way that requires MSc-level Economics.
It is valuable to pick a topic that you find interesting, so that working on the thesis feels less like work. However, not all interesting questions in economics make for good MSc thesis topics. It would be wise to discuss the topic with a faculty member before becoming invested in it.
Examples of thesis topics
List of examples of topic areas and specific thesis topics suggested by faculty.
If you are interested in working on a listed topic, contact the faculty member who suggested it. However, students may be reassigned between advisors in order to keep their numbers balanced across advisors, and also due to faculty leaves of absence.
The list contains also topic areas, which are broader than thesis topics and where you could discuss many types of potential research questions suited for various levels of ambition. It would result in a literature review or in original research in some subset of the topic area.
One purpose of the list is to help students formulate their own research questions by showing what is a proper depth and breadth of a thesis topic. If you have a potential topic, you can simply approach a faculty member with an email that includes an informal description (a couple of paragraphs). If you would like to get started on your thesis, but have no idea for a topic, you can simply ask a faculty member for a topic of their choice in some broad area of economic interest. If you don't know which faculty member to turn to, don't worry, the first one will forward you to a more appropriate one if necessary.
Resources for choosing a thesis topic
What is going on in economics research?
- Microeconomic insights, serious popularisations of recent research in applied microeconomics
- AEA research highlights, article highlights from American Economic Association journals
- Journal of Economic Perspectives "fills the gap between the general interest press and academic economics journals"
- Journal of Economic Literature, literature surveys and book reviews (mainly targeted for researchers)
- Annual Review of Economics , summaries of topic areas in Economics (targeted for researchers)
- Econofact, policy-relevant summaries by researchers, U.S. focus
- Vox EU, researchers summarizing their own work for the educated laymen
- VoxDev, researchers summarizing recent work in development economics for a broader audience
What is going on in the economy?
- The Economist
- Financial Times
- New York Times: Economy (limited access)
- Kauppalehti (in Finnish)
- Talouselämä (in Finnish)
- MustRead (in Finnish, for full access register with your aalto.fi email address)
Enrolling in the 2020-21 seminars
To enroll in the thesis seminar a student must have a topic accepted by a faculty member at the Department of Economics. The deadline for the Fall 2020 seminar is May 31st and October 31st for the Spring 2021 seminar. Adjusting the topic to be suitable for approval may require some back-and-forth between the student and the faculty, so students should make sure to begin the process several weeks before the deadline. The student must then notify Marko Terviö (Fall semester) or TBA (Spring semester) by email about the topic in the form of a provisional title for the thesis and the name of the faculty member who approved it. After that the student can enroll in the seminar via WebOodi (code 31E99905). The initial approved topic is not set in stone: it can be changed subject to the same approval procedure as the initial topic.
The purpose of the MSc thesis seminar is to learn to present, critique, and comment economic research. When the seminar begins the participants must therefore have already made some progress on their thesis, and need to be ready in the second week of the seminar to give their first presentation (in which the research question is introduced in the context of a broader topic). The seminar is not meant to substitute for thesis supervision, for which purpose each thesis writer has an individual faculty advisor.
The seminar is currently organized by Marko Terviö in Fall 2020 and by TBA in Spring 2021. See the seminar page at MyCourses (search for "31E99905") for current information on seminar work. The official course descriptions for the new academic year won't be published in Oodi until August.
The working language of the seminar is English. The main paper can be written in either Finnish or English, but all presentations and discussions in the seminar will be in English.