Grad Student How-To: Mastering the Thesis
For many graduate students, spring semester means it’s time to dig into writing your thesis. I’m sure that we can all agree that doing so is a bit, well, stressful, to say the least. That’s okay though! Here are some ways to make a daunting process a little less so:
Find a study buddy. Getting distracted is becoming easier and easier with the continued rise of technology and social media. I often find myself closing Facebook on my laptop only to open the Facebook app on my phone and scroll through the same posts I just saw for another five, ten, fifteen minutes. One way to avoid such temptation is to find a study buddy to keep you focused and honest! This will also help with #2 on this list.
Schedule your writing time. This seems pretty intuitive, I know, but trust me. As spring continues to, well, spring about it becomes much easier to say, “oh, maybe I can get this done tomorrow instead…” As someone who has put off tomorrow multiple times in regards to drafting, it can certainly complicate things. If you do find yourself a study buddy, it will hold you more accountable to your work days and help keep you from feeling like you’re missing out on being social.
Also schedule your down time. We all need time to rest and recharge, right? The best way to do this, especially with a thesis looming over you, is to schedule one day a week where you don’t even think about or look at your data. Plan a day to do whatever you want, whether it’s seeing a movie or taking a long nap, make sure you’re taking the time to yourself.
Take breaks. Again, intuitive right? Nope. Once you get in the groove, it’s really simple to push yourself to keep going until you burn out. This leads to what I like to call a “laptop hangover”. The following day your eyes refuse to focus and your brain won’t want to process anything more than a basic human need. Taking breaks and stepping away periodically while writing allows you to work smarter instead of just unleashing a spew of verbal vomit on the page that you’ll need to rewrite anyway.
Find a place to write where you feel most productive. For some, this could be the library, for others a coffee shop or even your apartment. Find a place where you feel comfortable yet inspired. Natural light is always a plus.
Make yourself notes as you write. It’s tempting to try and get everything perfect the first time, but I’ve found it helpful to write what I know I need to say immediately and leave myself notes in the text about quotes or references I want to include. That way I can get my immediate thoughts on paper without having to look something up in the middle of a sentence.
Don’t be afraid to write out of order. No one says you have to write each chapter in the order it will be in your thesis. If you know you’re more prepared with one topic than another, start with what you’re prepared for! At the end of the day, no one will know which pages got written first, just that pages did, in fact, get written.
Talk to people about your topic. When you’re writing you might find yourself getting bored with your thesis topic, but when you talk to someone else about what you’re studying, you remember why you were interested in it in the first place!
Best of luck finishing up those theses!