November 30, 2009

Let there be light in the darkness of thesis writing

If I could map out my enthusiasm for my research in a line graph it would probably look like this:

Figure X: Enthusiasm Count for  Thesis Writing

As shown in Figure X above, there was a drastic plunge in May, June, July and at the moment of speaking, in November. This lack of enthusiasm was entirely my fault, being mood-driven and all. I was  uninspired, my work got sloppy and as days went by, I became more and more demotivated.

Suddenly, the unexpected happened; I saw a flashlight in the middle of the tunnel! How did this happen?

You see, a very inspiring session during the recent NZ Postgraduate Conference somehow knocked some sense into me. It gave me a mild concussion but I really needed the wakeup call. I'm still in the tunnel, where everything's dark and unknown but at least now I have a flashlight to guide me through my journey.

The session was facilitated by two presenters who developed a programme to help PhD students succeed in their studies. From this project, they pooled together some valuable tips on how to be a sucessful thesis student. I don't think I can or am legally allowed to relay everything that was presented in the session, so I will just highlight the crucial ones. My version is of course simpler and less refined compared to the authors'.

Here goes...

Most thesis students suffer from two types of diseases:

- the belief that reading one more article will solve your research problems (Social Science student)

- The belief that doing one more experiment will solve all your research problems (Science student)

The moral of the story: You'll never get things done if you have these beliefs.

Myth 1
"I'll get it all clear in my head first and then write it down"
According to the presenters, this is so WRONG because
  • writing is not recording
  • writing is a creative process
  • writing clarifies your thinking
Myth 2
"I'll write when I feel ready and I'm not ready yet" (This is so me)
  • You may never feel ready
  • You have to write before you feel ready
  • That means now!
Just Do It
  • Write early and often
  • Bingeing vs. Snacking (Writing once in a blue moon vs. writing regularly - a research done has shown that academic staff who wrote 30 minutes everyday produced more journals than those who wrote occasionally)
  • Practice the golden hour - write for 2 hours everyday preferably in the morning (our brain is more alert in the morning, it is less used and not distracted by mental chores. Once we read emails, take calls and do stuff, we'll have more difficulty concentrating)
  • Assume position (Sit down in front of your pc)
  • Stay in position and nail your feet to the floor (Don't go anywhere for 2 hours - be disciplined)
  • Call supervisors and not wait to be called
  • Regular feedback will speed things up
  • Ask for specific feedback
  • Don't take comments personally
Last but not least, be REALISTIC - It's just a thesis, not a Nobel Prize

Notes taken during Hugh Kearns & Maria Gardiner's presentation entitled Some Secrets from Highly Sucessful Thesis Students at the 2009 NZPGC.

There you have it. The Dos and Don'ts. By applying these tips, struggling students like me can (hopefully) steer off from becoming another statistics in the failure category. Hope this helps :)


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