Occasionally, graduate students will ask me if it's "OK" if they develop an idea from a previous paper into a new research project. Their tentativeness on this issue suggests that, perhaps, they've been somehow trained to think that their graduate program consists of a series of unrelated papers, with no organizing principle (personally chosen) allowed to interfere. On one level, the historical distribution requirements in an M.A. program like ours do seem, at first glance, to rule out any "continuity" between individual projects--but, of course, it's easily possible for a student to pursue a particular set of interests across even the most disparate of courses. The most successful M.A. students I've seen so far have been able to transform their Plans of Study from plug-n'-play requirements into a means to a larger end. It isn't necessary for them to bring the "end" with them into the program; rather, the "end" emerges as the students think about the relationships between courses, skills, theoretical approaches, and so forth. Our responsibility as instructors, then, includes encouraging students to see courses not as self-enclosed boxes, but, instead, as potentially open-ended.
More to the point, most of us develop projects out of questions raised, but unanswered, by yet other projects. My interest in didactic historical fiction grew out of my work on 18th- and 19th-c. histories of women. Similarly, the article I've just started researching----representations of Anne Boleyn in 20th-c. historical fiction--which has apparently no relationship at all to my usual output, emerges from the article on "Royal Lives" I wrote for this Companion. In other words, it's not just "OK" to see our individual projects as links in a larger chain--it's the way most of us go about our work.