Ten Tips for Tackling that Thesis!

Meridith and Rachel are both in PhD programs, which means dissertation writing will be in their future.  While dissertating will come with its own sets of challenges, they have both managed to survive the process of completing a Masters thesis!  Here are the top ten tips and tricks (in no particular order) they used to keep sane, be productive, and come out the other side.  

1. If you haven’t been productive in 15 minutes, then it’s time to change locations.

R: First I got work aversion to my desk, then I got work aversion in the stats lab (luckily, after I was done with stats).  I finished writing by visiting (almost) every coffee shop in Long Beach for a few days in a row before I had to move on to my next location.
M: Can someone figure out how to fix the mutual exclusivity of working outside on a sunny day and being able to see your computer screen?


2. Lists are your friend. Make yourself a timeline.

This timeline should be specific and broken down into small component parts.  If it takes more than two hours to finish a part, break it down.  First, marking things off a list feels amazing. Second, it is way easier to procrastinate “write thesis” than it is to put off “write field portion of methods.”

Two of Meridith’s three amazing Thesis Besties! 

3. Find a thesis buddy that will sympathize with all of your complaints, bemoans, trials, and tribulations, but will still help you stay on track.

Make sure you pay this forward!  Having coffee dates with your thesis pal where you talk about what you’ve done and plan to do will help you actually do those things.  Having to look another human being in the face and admit “I didn’t do any of that.” is not fun.  Bonus point if this person has a dog.  Dogs make thesis writing way better.

4. Pick some upbeat tunes.
M:  This is my solution to many, many things.


Thesis buddy dog. Important.

R:  I wanted to give Pandora an acknowledgement on my thesis.
5. Schedule at least a short block of time every day to write.  Just write something every, single, day.

No further explanation needed.

6. Make time to cook in big batches or get right in your head about eating frozen foods.  It’s just going to happen.

R:  I tried to resist this for so long and ended up with a backlog of cabbage from my CSA box, because I had no time to cook.  This culminated in my arrival at the lab at 7am on a Saturday with a large mason jar full of cabbage juice…because that seemed like a good decision at the time.  That night I bought a huge container of frozen burritos, and it was pretty much the best decision I made that month.  
M: I went through a phase where my working location was in the student center…really close to the on-campus Taco Bell. I’m not proud, but I love bean burritos.

7. Communicate with your advisor.

We would highly advise having a recurring meeting time each week.  This is like having a thesis buddy x1000.  These recurring meetings will insure you keep making consistent progress.  They will also keep you from spending too much time in the tall grass.  You’ll still have to redo your stats section 3 times, just get over that now.

8. Save. Save often. And save files all in multiple locations.


This does not imply that you can save things all willy nilly.  You should just have multiple backup copies.  Make sure to save things with a meaningful name in a meaningful locations (ex: bad → on your desktop a file called “Thesis_ish”; good → Folder “Masters”, subfolder “Thesis Drafts”, file name “Thesis_full version_draft 3”).  We would recommend you save to your hard drive, to the cloud, and do some sort of external device that you keep in a separate location.  

9. Stay away from time-sucking websites.

There are lots of applications you can add to your web browser, and you can set these to block you from accessing these sites to varying degrees.

10. Find your mantra.

R:  Mine was, “All my tasks are accomplishable.”
M: I had a few, but “Graduation or Death” was helpful.



Post thesis defense!  For the record, tiny bottles of liquor were purchased by a member of Rachel’s committee.
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