Help with dissertation

Hi guys I have submitted my preliminary dissertation topic but have not yet elaborated upon. It’s private wealth management and I have to further specify what exactly I am going to write about. The thing is, when I was deciding on the topic, it appeared to me that PWM is a huge field with many opportunities to explore and analyse. However, I realize now that I do not know what specific topic within PWM to target. It is 99% asset/portfoio management but what I write has to be somehow related to PWM. And this is the problem. I can’t think of anything significant PWM-related that will provide enough material for writing 10k words. To make things even worse, there aren’t many books on PWM. I was thinking to focus on how psychological make up determines the desired portfolio management process, return objectives, risk preferences etc. I am getting more and more desparate and may have to consider changing my topic. Any ideas ? Pls elaborate a bit. Anything would be highly apprciated.

This is one messed up way of picking a dissertation topic. First, do you have an advisor? It’s your advisor’s job to help you come up with a topic. Picking a topic and then finding an advisor who is willing to do it with you only means you will get an advisor uninterested in the topic. If you do not yet have an advisor just a “preliminary dissertation topic”, throw it away and go find an advisor. I think you need to go talk with some more senior students. The process of completing a dissertation is pretty much do what your advisor says until your advisor says you’re done doing it. A dissertation is not exactly your work; it’s your work under the direction of your advisor. If you want to be done ever, you need an advisor on-board. Anyway, you need to: 1) Go around your department and talk to profs you like (you will be spending lots of time with him/her). 2) Ask the following questions to each prof: a) Do you have any good dissertation topics? (a buddy of mine who got his Ph.D. in math at UVA tells the story that a particular distinguished prof would answer the question by opening a file drawer of dissertation topics and sizing up the candidate. The farther back in the file drawer he went for the topic, the more esteem he had for the candidate). b) Have you done any research on this before? (you don’t want an answer like “I tried but it was too hard for me”) c) Do you have any good readings on this topic? d) Are you interested in this topic? e) How does your time look? f) Are there any sabbaticals, long trips, new jobs in your future? g) Would you like to do a dissertation with me? 3) Read all the readings you are given. 4) Go back to prof of readings that you liked and spec out the dissertation (it will never end up like this, but you will get a feel for the work involved). 5) Choose topic from spec-ed out dissertation. 6) Submit spec-ed out dissertation as your “preliminary dissertation topic”. 7) Get working on it.

Joey’s completely right. You should be getting your dissertation topic from an advisor, not from a bulletin board populated mostly by non-academics, many just out of (or not even out of) undergrad. Your professors should have some idea of what topics are original enough to pass muster, achievable in some reasonable time frame, and (maybe) likely to get a job at the end of the line. Now, if you want a topic that can possibly be useful in the real world, then getting some advice here might not be so bad, but it’s got to be more than “hey, tell me an interesting topic.” Maybe you need to locate some people who work in PWM and interview them to see what kinds of questions they find themselves wishing they knew the answer to, and then discussing those answers with an advisor to come up with a thesis statement. What discipline is this in? Finance? Mathematical Finance? Psychology? Economics? This matters too, for the relevancy of the topic (and how it may be marketed to get you a job at the end). So I come from a political economy perspective, so for me, all I can suggest for PWM is maybe something on “cultural differences in risk appetite and risk tolerance.” Things like how sharia law affects portfolio management, or maybe how do the newly rich chinese invest their money when they face a government that could potentially do nasty things to them, or how the tax system affects charitable contributions (for example, why is setting up a philanthropy so much more common among the newly rich in the US as compared to other regions of the world - Europe, Latin America, Asia, etc. - or is this perception even true anymore). How does financial tracking in the War on Terror change the way PWM is done? If you wanted to do something more mathematical, you could try to come up with some way to plot out revealed utility functions from revealed preferences and test some behavioral finance assumptions, or you might try to see how financial innovations in the derivatives area might affect HNW individuals that are just on the border of having alternative assets in their portfolio. Anyway, maybe that can help. There are some people on this board who have Ph.D.s (Joey and I have them, in different fields, CFAAtlanta has one, and there are at least a few more). These guys may help you a bit, but the biggest dangers in choosing a topic are: 1) Choosing a topic that is so broad, it can’t get done in any reasonable time frame. 2) Choosing a topic that is interesting and narrow, but there’s no guarantee that you can actually get the data needed to analyze it. 3) Choosing a topic that is doable, but no one else in your field will care much about the answer (less of a problem because a dissertation is really an exercise, but it still helps to have a “current” topic). 4) Choosing a topic that you don’t find the least bit interesting, because you will hate it by the end and perhaps not finish (unless you can really just burn through it quickly). Advisors are key there, so my sense is find an advisor you trust, like, and can work with. Good luck, and I am curious to know what you ultimately decide on.

… oops… double post

Agree with advice to find a friendly advisor; just read her last half dozen publications and you should find a topic springing to mind, of the sort “why didn’t they investigate X, or what if assumption Y is tested…” Or just spending a weekend reading pwm articles should spawn a few dozen reasonable topics. If you want to do this from the convenience of your home, just sniff around in Google Scholar; e.g.“private+wealth+management”&hl=en&lr=&scoring=r&as_ylo=2003 CFAI also sponsors research. E.g. here’s a collection of recent papers on life cycle investing – which apparently is far from a solved topic.

Depending on your career track, you can also begin with the end in mind. If you want to move into industry, ring up the CIO at your favorite PWM firm and ask him if there are any questions he’d like answered. This may give you access to a great source of data and an automatic job offer on the back end.

Joey and the others are completely right, of course. One idea is to go with Bchadwick’s suggestion for PWM: something on “cultural differences in risk appetite and risk tolerance.” To get some ideas you might go to this site and read the summary: >> If you like the approach, contemplate comparing this situation with what it’s like in the US. Download the full text here, by clicking on the word next to files, “full text”, it’s a PDF: >> Scroll to chapter 7 and read the “analysis” and “suggestions” sections. Another suggestion: >> Scroll down to section 6.4.3 and take a look at that. I don’t know whether this is of any use to you but at least it’s something, and might give you some ideas to work from.

DarienHacker Wrote: ------------------------------------------------------- > Depending on your career track, you can also begin > with the end in mind. If you want to move into > industry, ring up the CIO at your favorite PWM > firm and ask him if there are any questions he’d > like answered. This may give you access to a > great source of data and an automatic job offer on > the back end. I actually kind of did this and it didn’t work out so well. I was working for RAND to feed myself while in grad school and my boss there suggested I work on the unclassified parts of my research (which sounds cloak-and-dagger but is pretty mundane) as my dissertation and they would pay me to work on my dissertation. Oh boy, I thought, until I ran smack into academic revulsion at the idea of corrupting my scholarly work that way. Anyway, I didn’t do it but the tanks seemed to work okay in Gulf War I despite my choosing some other project so everything turned out alright.

bchadwick, I’m assuming your PhD was in economics, with a focus on political economy? I’m a finance doctoral student and I find myself quite interested in capital market structures (mechanism design) which overlaps with political economy somewhat. What was your thesis on if I may ask? I’m only a 1st year so it’s quite some time before I actually select and adviser/topic but it’s never too early to start looking.

Actually it was Political Science, with a healthy dose of economics. (personally, I dislike calling it Political Science, but that wasn’t my choice; there are “scientific” ways of analyzing politics, but it is more like biology than physics). I also was physics undergrad, so I liked applying math and mathematical models up to the point where it still made sense. Some of my super mathematical colleagues “went off the deep end,” I thought: the math was interesting and fun to follow, but I didn’t think it would ever be safe to use those models to describe reality and base policy decisions on it. My thesis was on how the structure of the political regime (democratic or authoritarian, and shades in between) affected the way societies evaluated and handled sustainable development in emerging markets, which I basically took as the way countries balanced economic development and environmental policy. It turned out to be quite complicated, because it involved understanding policy decisions, but also popular movements, economic pressures on decisionmakers, collective action, bureaucratic competition, environmental science and datagathering, decisions under uncertainty, defining “sustainability,” etc… The interesting upshot was that, when it comes to the environment, civil liberties actually matter more than democratic elections, although both are influential and important. In finance circles, I often describe my thesis work as looking at how political structure affects environmental valuation, because a key finding was that in democracies, people have essentially a lower hurdle rate before they decide to invest in environmentally protective actions. And yes, this seems to hold up even if you control for the fact that the average democracy is richer than the average authoritarian regime. It was an enjoyable topic, and took me to a bunch of great places - both intellectually and geographically. Environmental work really helps train the mind to see an extremely complex situation and be able to focus in fairly quickly on the most important features. It also had some nice quantitative and qualitative aspects. One of the nice things about being quantitatively oriented, but in a primarily qualitative discipline like Political Science is that you actually learn how to do qualitative work that is rigorous (not that everyone actually does it, but rigorous qualitative analysis isn’t just that there’s lots of detail). To the extent that political regimes are “decision making mechanisms,” I suppose you might be able to extract something. My sense is that maybe there is something interesting on the security of property rights in securities valuation. For example, there may be some industries that are at higher risk of being nationalized, expropriated, or subsidized or bailed out, and this might depend on how regulatory design is done. Or you could work on different disclosure rules, or possibly look to see if the process of listing on different exchanges affects something about how IPOs and secondary offerings work out.