A concern I hear a lot from the PhD students I work with is that they’re worried about the fact that various important aspects of their thesis keep shifting and morphing over time. Most commonly they’re referring to research questions or theory framework.
There’s an underlying concern that that if they’re changing and evolving important parts of their research design, it must mean they’re doing something wrong. They feel that they surely should have settled on a final form by now.
The truth is though that the PhD is constantly evolving. You’re always coming up with new ideas, tweaking old ones, and discarding irrelevant ones. You’re always trying to think of ways to streamline, improve or optimise the various elements of the thesis, particularly those at its heart (such as the aims/objectives, research questions and theoretical approach).
So you must see it as an evolutionary process. Indeed, you should be wary if you ever find yourself becoming complacent.
You shouldn’t see a shift in focus (however slight or major) as a deficiency, nor should it mean that you’ve wasted your time thus far. So long as you’ve thought through the reasons behind the shift in focus and you can justify them to yourself and others, shift away!
It’s all part of the process.
Take my thesis as an example. I changed one of my research questions (albeit in a fairly minor way) a few weeks before submission, when I realised that all along I had been asking a slightly different question to the one I thought I was. Once I shifted the wording a little, a ton of other things I had been trying to grapple with suddenly became clearer.
So remember this: it will take a while for you to settle on a structure in your PhD that you’re happy with. Trust the process. But also remember that a PhD is never complete; it never takes on a final form. It’s always a work in progress.
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