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The 15 Best Debate Topics for Grad School Students in 2021

Debate refers to a structured argument where two opposing sides speak interchangeably on a relevant issue. Typically, debates are formally planned but are also held in informal settings. 

Usually, one side is supporting a resolution while another is challenging it. In formal debates, participants must abide by previously agreed rules and create the most convincing arguments. The debate is judged to proclaim a winning side. Debates should not be confused with arguments because it is organized, so the opposing sides get to say their piece alternately in a timed manner. Any interjection will be fully controlled. 

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In society at large, debates are done to learn more about the issue and find a way to solve it. While is a staple in democratic civilizations, serving as a deciding factor in board meetings, legislative assemblies, and public hearing, among many others, debates are also a fixture in classrooms and often a part of many graduate school curriculums. 

Debate in Graduate School

In graduate-level debates, the class is usually broken into teams, either in pairs or in groups. They must debate in a formalized structure with two opposing positions of a topic – the affirmative side and the negative side. Classroom debates include a set format, rules, and time. More often than not, the instructor comes up with a debate topic and the two opposing positions before the debate begins. The teams will then be given time to prepare their key arguments. 

For the competition to be effective, students participating in the debate must focus on course themes. This means they must base their arguments on the course materials, supplemented by their research. Debates are more common in social sciences and humanities, but they can also be applied in all disciplines. 

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Benefits of Debates 

Gaining Critical Thinking Skills 

Graduate students often deal with rigorous coursework. Debates are a good way to equip them with critical thinking skills that can help them become more adept at problem-solving and finding innovative solutions. They can bridge the gap between words and ideas, making the concepts more meaningful. Students are also taught to integrate a wide range of complex information and exercise their creativity in forming their thoughts and expressing them out loud. 

Acquiring Better Poise and Speech Delivery 

Another positive impact of debates is the opportunity for students to deliver their ideas and thoughts with confidence. Public speaking can be daunting, so joining a debate can hone their skills in doing so. Not only will they express and elaborate on their stance, but they will also be able to identify their audience and use an appropriate tone. Being articulate is a valuable ability that they can use outside grad school, where they need to present in front of many people. 

Improving Research Skills

Navigating new concepts, unfamiliar languages, and a wide array of new information is nothing new for grad students. But this skill can be enhanced through debates as they become self-guided learners who find and read sources and other materials that can help them form a coherent train of thoughts. They will need to put these ideas into writing, too, as they need to draft their speech before the debate begins. 

Enhancing Teamwork and Collaboration 

In classroom debates where the class is often formed into groups or pairs, it is impossible not to develop teamwork and collaboration as students work with their team to prepare and win the debate. It is a vital skill that is required when they get to work in the real world. 

Developing Quick-thinking for Conflict Resolution  

Debates develop students’ ability to challenge the opposing party, which often requires them to think outside of the box. They need to determine which part of the counter-arguments have gaps and use it to their advantage. The time constraints in formal debates also mean they need to think and respond to comments and questions under pressure. Their quick-thinking skills must also extend to their capacity to focus on their goal and stay on topic while providing their arguments. 

Attaining Mental and Emotional Maturity 

Students experience how to engage in a serious issue in a mature and professional environment. They must be able to maintain their composure while addressing the subject matter. They mustn’t get carried away by their emotions as the debate gets heated. Managing their emotion is a useful skill that will earn them respect not just in grad school but also in the real-world setting. 

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Basic Debating Skills to Master 

Style 

A basic part of debating style refers to the manner that students organize and express their thoughts. It shows in the way they deliver these ideas into arguments, often confidently and persuasively.  

Tone

While debates are formal, they should not be boring. Students must learn how to use varied tones depending on the ideas and emotions they wish to express. 

Speed 

Speaking in debates should be paced to maximize the allotted time and coherent enough to be easily understood by the audience.

Volume 

While debates are rife with arguments from sides, shouting throughout the process is not necessary. Students should be able to determine the right time to speak louder and when to tone it down. They must find the right balance between being heard by everyone and drowning out all the other sounds inside the room. 

Clarity 

Perhaps, the most important debating skill, clarity, allows students to speak concisely, expressing complex issues with coherence and intelligence. They need to make sure that their stream of thoughts is not disrupted to maintain their poise and sound clear throughout. 

Note-taking 

Notes are a staple in debating. It is almost impossible to speak articulately without the help of a note, even if it only serves as a guide. However, notes should not obstruct a debater’s rapport with the audience. Reading notes verbatim will not sound smooth. When taking down notes, it is ideal for sketching out the main headings of the speech or rebuttal and only include brief prompts for each. 

Content 

What one says during the debate is of utmost importance. Students must be able to develop their argument and rebut the opposing side. They should present their argument with clarity and explain the thrust of their view. Building the argument and justifying them with basic logic, statistics, quotes, and others will be the best way to go. 

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The 15 Best Debate Topics for Grad Students 

1. Should net neutrality be restored? 

One of the most controversial topics in the modern and digital world, net neutrality, often invites debates from both sides of the argument. In a nutshell, net neutrality means internet service providers cannot block, slow down, prioritize, or charge the consumers extra fees to access certain websites. This will prevent providers from abusing their power and elevating brands under their control, as set out by the Telecommunications Act of 1996. For example, Verizon cannot speed up access to the websites that it owns. This includes Yahoo and AOL. At the same time, it should not slow down traffic to rival websites like Google and Bing. 

For those in favor of net neutrality, the promotion of freedom of expression, innovation, and competition is often cited. It protects consumers from acquiring additional costs by making websites and blogs fully available and accessible, as long as they operate legally. Also, it levels the playing field and allows new companies to compete. This is especially valuable to startups who might face discrimination from big internet service providers who can favor their content. 

Those against it argue that regulations for net neutrality are completely unnecessary since the internet developed without their interjections. They can also argue that net neutrality can negatively affect investment in internet services, resulting in higher costs for consumers. 

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2. Should immunization be mandatory? 

Vaccines have always been a form of contention between two opposing sides of the argument. While immunization made gains and established its value over the past decades, many detractors are wary of its possible negative effects. It is often an argument between personal freedom of choice and community responsibility. This topic is all the more relevant today when the COVID-19 vaccines started rolling out. The question has always been: to vaccinate or not to vaccinate? 

On the one hand, vaccination can help reduce the risk of contaminating preventable diseases. Some of the most common vaccines include those for flue, meningitis, and polio. The benefits of the vaccine extend to the community at large. When immunized individuals within a population reach a threshold, they will develop what they call “herd immunity,” which means the entire population, including those who are not vaccinated, will be protected from that particular disease.

On the other hand, those opposing vaccination believe that vaccines can do more harm than good. The most cited argument is that vaccines can cause autism. Beyond the often contested cause of autism, there is reasonable cause of concern for certain vaccines. For one, a vaccine is not advisable for individuals with serious allergies and those with a weakened immune system because of pre-existing conditions like HIV or cancer. 

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3. Is it a good idea to legalize human cloning? 

While the rest of the world has banned human cloning altogether, no bills were passed to do the same in the US. Nevertheless, precautionary measures have been set out by the United States Food and Drug Administration that pre-empt regulatory concerns on human cloning. This was done through a letter

Those in favor of lifting the ban cite the medical advances that human cloning can bring. Infertile couples can use cloning to have children. It can also be instrumental in organ replacement, as a clone can be a good source for transplant organs or tissues. Another field of science that it can greatly impact is genetic research, where cloning is said to assist scientists in gene editing and the necessary research it entails. However, those against cloning bring up the questions of ethics, morality, and human rights violations. 

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4. In international relations, does nationalism do more harm than good?

Patriotism often gets a bad reputation from international relations. The rise of populist movements and leaders all over the world are blamed for nationalism, after all. Nationalism is defined as a fusion between shared ethnicity and state sovereignty. This often allows one ethnic group to dominate the political landscape of a certain country. 

People who favor patriotism point to its positive outcomes, including promoting a sense of identity, uniting people, and fostering a sense of pride. This can give color to certain societies and civilizations, improving their sense of belonging and restoring their importance. Those who oppose it bring up the negative effects, including its roles as the root cause of conflict, human rights infringements, and inciting xenophobia. This is often followed by wars and genocide, all of which have a disastrous effect on lives and properties. 

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5. Can vegan diet help fight global warming? 

Another interesting debate topic is the argument on the role played by the vegan diet in the fight against global warming.

The world has seen an increasing concern with regards to carbon emissions. Many countries have taken steps to combat climate change. One of the often-cited solution is switching to a plant-based diet. But can veganism reduce global warming? 

Those who favor a vegan diet as a great step towards curbing the effects of global warming point to the reduction of meat and dairy consumption. Doing this will free up land that can be used more effectively, storing the carbon emissions from humans.

The other side of the argument does not support the viability of a vegan diet as a solution for global warming. They cite the practice of monocultures which are very common in growing stable vegan food grown from crops like soy and wheat. This depletes the soil and destroys a diverse habitat.

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6. Should fracking be banned?

Fracking is an unconventional natural gas extraction technique involving the pumping of water, sand, and chemical mixtures into subterranean rock formations to release oil and gas reserves is practiced. The US oil industry pumps 12 million barrels of oil a day, and 8 million barrels come from shale-oil companies. 

One of the biggest reasons for the move to ban fracking is its tremendous contribution to water contamination. Drilling and fracturing rock formations employ toxic chemicals such as methanol, naphthalene, and benzene. This exposes people to harmful chemicals which can cause diseases like cancer. The vast amounts of methane that fracking releases are said to worsen climate change as well.

For those opposed to banning fracking, the tremendous impact on the oil production industry is often cited. This led to lower energy prices and strengthened energy security. It also contributed to lowered air pollution as gas displace coal in electricity generation. 

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7. Should euthanasia be legalized? 

The existing laws surrounding euthanasia are often challenged and contested. Euthanasia, also known as assisted dying, has always been a controversial topic. Many call for introducing legislation that will allow terminally ill but mentally competent people to assisted death. 

Proponents of euthanasia argue that the right to die is a personal choice. It is often pursued by those with severe medical conditions who cannot be relieved in any other way, helping them end their suffering and die with dignity. Many people who oppose euthanasia bring to light the ethical and moral questions that surround it. They counter that physician-assisted suicide is fundamentally incompatible with their role as healers. They also contend that it would diminish the protection offered to all lives. 

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8. Does social media bring more harm than good? 

Social media have grown so prevalent that it has become pretty much a staple in everyday life. Businesses and advertisers came to social media because that is where their consumers are. Social media also gave people a fast and easy way to connect and communicate with each other. In a way, social media has transformed the way humans consume information. But is it more harmful than it is beneficial? 

Those who believe in its advantages often mention the ease with which social interactions can be done, all without leaving one’s seat. It is also so much easier for someone to access quick information that pertains to products and services. It has become a habit for many consumers to check the social media pages of a business and look at the reviews before making up their minds.

As for the disadvantages, it seems social media became an outlet for bullying. The anonymity gave some the confidence to taunt their victims without accountability. Social media also fosters self-loathing for many who cannot help but compare themselves to the perfect life they see through the screen. It can decrease their self-esteem and make them question their self-worth. 

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9. Should homework be banned? 

Homework has always been a subject of contention. Many believe that children spend way too much time doing homework that, instead of helping, has become a hindrance to success. It keeps them away from meeting their physical and social needs. 

People who support the ban of homework underlines the stress that students incur from doing it. It is time-consuming and can often lead to burnout. They fail to make time for themselves. On the other hand, opponents of the homework ban cite its importance in improving critical thinking and memory retention. Students can also develop their research skills as they learn how to look for sources and gather the needed information. 

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10. Is the right to bear arms justified? 

The U.S. is big on using the second clause of the Second Amendment, which stipulates the right to keep and bear arms. In recent years, this right has invited heated debates from opposing sides of the fence. 

Many believe that the right to bear arms protect individuals from harm. Carrying a loaded handgun is a form of self-defense, and it is a right that should not be infringed upon. On the other hand, the opposing side often says that the individual freedoms of gun owners should not come before the safety and peace of mind of non-gun owners. They cite the cases of mass shootings that have occurred over the years and insisted on how gun control can help reduce its frequency and gravity. 

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11. Should animal testing be used in drug trials? 

In the past decades, animal rights and welfare organizations have always called for the halt of using animals in research and drug trials. It is wrong to use animals for the sole benefits of humans. However, disease treatment and health research and development will be impeded without this practice. 

Many people who oppose animal testing say that experiments like this are often wasteful and unreliable. Treatments developed with animal testing rarely translate to humans and will not yield results that will be effective when applied to human conditions. Those who agree with animal testing insert the main benefits it brings: the biological similarities of animals to humans. Animals are susceptible to the health problems that humans experience and, therefore, important in advancing the understanding and treatment of many illnesses. 

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12. Should there be limits imposed on people’s freedom of speech? 

Freedom of speech is a staple when it comes to debates. Salman Rushdie says that without the freedom to offend, freedom of expression ceases to exist. But is this the case? Freedom of expression is protected in the U.S. by the First Amendment. However, in recent years, there have been calls to limit its scope.  

The side in favor cites the use of hate speech, which can sometimes incite rash actions that result to harm. Many agree to restrictions on speech in the cases where it is used to undermine and provoke violence against a certain group of people, such as the members of the LGBTQ community.

The opposing side disagrees because they believe that curbing the freedom of speech and giving the government the authority to do so can lead to future abuse. They say it is far more dangerous to give anyone the power to suppress speech, especially those who express dissident thoughts. It just simply fails to support the ideals of a democratic country. 

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13. Is there a third gender? 

Often a subject of controversy, the question of the third gender can open up one’s mind to differing perspectives, allowing them to hone their critical thinking skills. The third gender is a concept that categorizes an individual as non-binary, meaning they neither identify as just male or just female.

It can be brought to light that some cultures recognize people who embody gender identity beyond the binary, as evident in Native American societies and some South Asian communities. Those who counter this system point to the biological makeup that governs genders, making biology the determining factor for the latter instead of a social construct. 

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14. Should voting be mandatory?

In a democratic country such as the U.S., voting is a big deal. However, it is astonishing to find that only about 50% of people participate in this democratic right during the last few elections. There are calls for making voting a requirement for citizens. 

Those in favor believe that constituents should let their voices be heard. In more than 30 counties, voting is compulsory. It can affect voter turnout and encourage citizens to be more proactive in local politics, eventually inspiring them to trust their governments. If most of the population refuses to vote, the principles of democracy may not be at work! Opponents of this movement say mandatory voting goes against the very ideals of freedom, making it un-American. It might result in a far worse government. 

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15. Should the sale of human organs be legalized? 

Modern medicine’s newest glory is the honing of organ transplantation. Unfortunately, it is a miracle that is beyond the reach of the majority of the population. Thousands are in the waiting line for kidney transplants, and only a handful will be able to get them and be saved. In recent years, there are efforts to rectify this situation by opening up the viability of paying people to donate their organs, leading to the legalization of the human organs market. 

Proponents of legalizing the sale of human organs believe that altruism alone will not solve the shortage of vital organs to save lives. They say it is far more effective to compensate people willing to give their organs to a stranger to save a life. This practice can also lead to the undermining of black markets for organ selling.

On the other hand, opponents of this idea present the argument that compensation will not increase the supply. They believe that it will have an adverse effect than its intended purpose, citing the case of legalizing blood sales in the U.S. Blood donation is higher in the UK, where blood sale is not allowed, compared to the U.S., where it is.

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