Thesis (1)- How I found my topic

Sustainability is quite a big field and I have been trying to narrow it down and to find the exact spot or direction for myself since the first day of my master program. Renewable energy or CSR? Biochar or urban mining?

Options seem to be limitless. Luckily I have finally learned that I cannot do everything and that I need to have a focus to be great at it. Taking a course on Design thinking last semester really opened my mind to this new way of problem solving. I spent much time trying to find a connection between design thinking and sustainability to make a thesis topic out of it. Despite my effort of preliminary research, talking to professors and much much thinking, I could not reach a satisfactory topic. In times like this, I really do trust my gut feeling. If I am not feeling the “click”, then it’s not the right topic…

Then I attempted to go back to narrowing down “sustainability”. I chose urban development because a course on urban infrastructure back in Delft had made me quite fascinated about the power of planning and design. Cities are also quite interesting and full of potentials for sustainability for its high population and activity density and rapid tread of urbanization. I have learned that one should find and take advantage the power of big trends in the society to rise with it.

Again I ran into the obstacle of not knowing enough about urban development, design or planning. My earlier attempts of taking some interesting courses on the subject in Chalmers failed because the Architecture department has their own timetable which is incompatible with mine. Managed to go to many open lectures, workshops, to talk to guest lecturers and Chalmers professors again made me feel like an outsider to this large field of urban studies.

Light in the darkness was that I finally had a casual talk with my lecturer for Urban Metabolism at the time, she asked me to come by her office later and gave me three topics she has been interested in. Two of them clicked with me and in the end I picked the one on “Circular Economy implementation on the urban scale”. All happened within 12 hours. Ironically I was actually advised to talk to her about thesis topics weeks ago. The reason I didn’t was that I wanted to find my own topic, which was proven to be much much harder than expected… I love this topic right away because I have always wanted to do something with cities; resource depletion and waste was what drove me to study Industrial Ecology two years ago; circular economy has also been quite a hot topic but my adviser and I were both sick of only hearing about CE business models and wanted to find a tangible way to implement it.

Should I have talked to her weeks ago before all my self-made struggles, would I have clicked with the topic instantly? No idea. That’s why I am not so mad with myself for putting myself through a hard time. Knowing myself well, if I was easily handed something, I may not have appreciated it as much as I should. You only cherish what you get after some suffering. Or is it just me?

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