10 Things to Know About Writing A Thesis
Even though it was a couple years ago, I can still very clearly remember the day I submitted the final version of my thesis to the University of Cincinnati graduate school’s website. Hitting the submit button concluded about 17 years of schooling, after which lay the unknown world of adulthood with a Masters degree.
Looking back there are a bunch of things I wish I could have told myself during the thesis writing process. Here are just a few, with tips and suggestions sprinkled in there too!
1. You are never going to be in the ‘writing mood’
Just give it up!
This is not a thing!
Sit your butt down, and start putting words on your document. The hardest part of writing a 10,000,000 page paper (or however long the page count goal your adviser has given you seems) is getting the ball rolling. I needed a lot of help with procrastination, and this app called procraster was vital. So find your vital tool. If you listen to your Instant Gratification monkey and wait until you feel like starting you’ll never get done. Trust me, you can edit later.
2. Caffeine is your new best friend
About three years ago I was a hot chocolate fanatic with an occasional (sweetened) tea here and there. Then I started taking graduate classes and writing a thesis. Battling various stages of diagnosed depression aside, I started to realize there was no way to do the required amount of work while staying on track for graduation without a constant
IV drip brew of espresso flowing directly into my mouth mug.
But seriously homemade mocha is the best thing in the world. Don’t make the same mistake I did and empty your bank account before realizing how easy (and much more delicious) coffee is to make at home. I’m going to put up the various recipes for some of the caffeinated beverages I like to make, like home-brewed chai that made my apartment smell AMAZING and is also super cheap, but for now how artsy can your mocha get after making them daily for months?
3. Check out LaTeX… or any other word processor besides Microsoft Word
Have you ever been writing a paper in Word and then later decide to reformat something, add a picture, whatever, and now your beautiful paper is a mangled pile of indiscernible crap? Assuming what you wrote before wasn’t that way already 😉
In comes LaTeX to save the day! LaTeX is a word processor that is fairly easy to install, has a steep-ish learning curve, but will be worth it when you realize how powerful and amazing it is. Seriously, you can do whatever you need to do to communicate the project you’ve invested years of your life in to your committee with so much less crying than using Word. Using it feels a little like writing in HTML, but overall it’s readable without having to constantly re-process your paper. Plus it has a lot of helpful tools for making chapters, sections, numbering tables and figures, making a table of contents, etc.
4. Paper is your friend!
One thing I learned from having a bazillion reference papers to read through (not all of which I even used) was that printing them out and highlighting/noting my way through them helped me absorb the material so much better. That allowed me to better reference and learn from these papers throughout my research.
flinches from expected smacks upside the head from environmentalists
I get that I probably killed some subspecies of frog with the trees that made up the paper I printed everything on, but for me that is what worked. Plus it’s super hard accidentally navigate to facebook in a new tab on paper. I knew my urge to get off task far outweighed my ability to use a computer to read papers like a productive adult, so that was my workaround.
There are some really great tablet apps though that let you import PDFs and draw/note/whatever on them though! So definitely check those out if it’s up your alley.
5. Stay away from negative words
My adviser had to keep reminding me not to use the word “tampering” throughout my thesis when I meant that I was tuning my algorithm. Really be sure to pay attention to the voice and tone that you’re conveying in your thesis. Especially if things didn’t go as planned. What did you learn? Everything counts for something.
6. Break it down & set deadlines for yourself
Ok so if mentioning procraster twice in the same post will help someone then here it is. This. App. Saved. Me. Here. Anyway.
One of the hardest things about being a grad student is the realization of holy shit I have to do this whole thing and it’s all gonna be due all at once omg. Even though my adviser helped by adding in mini-deadlines, I still have anxiety, so it was a smaller but still significant holy shit I have to do that whole part and it’s all gonna be due all at once omg.
So in walks a way for me to set deadlines. Like down to ‘today I’ll read and annotate 3 papers before lunch’ level of deadlines. Breaking things down into itty bitty pieces seemed super tedious at times, but in the end I’m so glad I did. Sometimes just seeing a list of small things helped me feel less anxious about all that there was to do. Other times it felt great to be able to check lots of things off throughout the day. Either way, it was a plus.
7. Schedule your defense date early
Not only is trying to find a date and time when all of your committee is free next to impossible, getting a group of professors in one room all at once to give the presentation is like herding cats. So be ready, fair cat herder, for your time has come.
Other reasons to schedule your defense date early: planning your post-defense bar-hopping extravaganza.
Or just letting your bed know when you’ll be back. You do you.
But one BIG reason is because most places have a date you need to defend by for things to count for that semester. Actually speaking of that…
8. Get all your ducks in a row with your graduate school. Now. Right now.
Literally close this window and do a google search for “(your university name) graduate school graduation deadlines”. Don’t get screwed by defending three days after the deadline for that semester. Nobody needs extra student loan debt from that. Nobody.
These deadlines are mostly too early to make sense. Especially in your crazed researching/writing stupor deep within your thesis topic. Just trust me. Know those dates. Now. Go.
9. Bring snacks/cookies/coffee to your defense
I’m not saying you should bribe them, but if there is one thing that really puts a thesis committee in a good mood, it’s free food. Plus it will help keep them in one place if someone is late. Professors don’t drift far from free cookies. Think of it as cat herding insurance.
10. You are going to be just fine!
Take a deep breath! It may seem like an overwhelming amount of work at first, but it’s doable! See all these people with silly hats on?
They all did this! So can you!