Welcome to the second part of my series 22 Quick and Useful Tips For Tackling Your Thesis. Can you believe that I sat out to write a 10 tip post when I thought of this topic? After doing a bit of soul searching, writing, and reading my post aloud I came up with even more tips. Y'all know I don't like to hold out on y'all, so here we go.
12. Look At Other Papers For Inspiration (But Not Too Much)
I looked at a lot of papers for inspiration while I was writing my thesis. At the end of the day though, I think you have to be clear about where your abilities end. You cannot compare yourself too heavily to dissertations or academic papers in your field. You are still learning and it takes years of hard work, publications, and everything in between to get your content to the level that it needs to be at.
Don't worry if your papers aren't 100% from the start. This takes time. So when you are looking at other people's papers for inspiration step back and think about if your thesis committee would expect you to do that in your paper. Overall, your professors understand that you cannot do it all. They understand that you are getting a BA or an MA. This is not a dissertation or peer-reviewed academic paper level work. Yes, it needs to be cohesive and good, but they don't expect you to be perfect.
Talk with your thesis committee (specifically your chair) and let them see where you are going. Keeping them in the loop will help you so you can understand where their head is. It is important to understand the level they want you to write at. They will let you know if they feel that you are not going deep enough, but you need to keep them updated so they can tell you this before it's too late.
13. Take Care Of Yourself (& Only Cry A Little Bit)
To get to the health side of things a bit, freaking take care of yourself. This time will be mega-stressful. I know that the thesis process compounded with all the things happening with my research assistantship threw everything off for me. I was having major issues with my period (TMI, but important) and it was causing issues in other avenues of my life. During my grad school experience, I started feeling extra weak and I ended up putting myself on a mixture of daily vitamins. The vitamins I ended up getting these Women's Vitamins from Vitafusion and these Iron pills from NatureMade. I wasn't eating the right food so I ended up supplementing my diet with vitamins, but you may also just want to cook food rich in what you need.
Recognize when your body is out of sync with where it needs to be, and don't wait. I know that vitamins have a bit of a negative rep because they basically pump you with way more of these vitamins that you need, but for me, they have helped so much. I am not sure if this is an actual positive or if I just feel that it is a positive, but since taking my vitamins I feel that I have gotten better and my period has straightened out and it has not been so insane.
My thesis and graduate school, in general, caused some huge changes to my body. You need to be in tune with your body during this time so that you can make sure you are able to get it back to where it needs to be. Even if you have to do a mental check in with how you are feeling each day, do it. Graduate school is not worth risking your health over!
Now Let's Chat About Crying
I cried A LOT during graduate school. I was an emotional person before graduate school, but the nerves of graduate school definitely didn't help. Especially when it came to working on my thesis, I have probably cried for at least a little bit during most of my writing sessions (if not all of my writing sessions.)
Sad, I know.
The biggest thing about crying when it comes to writing your thesis is that you have to learn to suck it up a bit. Crying can really get in the way of your sanity. For example, while I was submitting my paper to ProQuest my internet on my Mac decided to basically go out. This was hella difficult for me because:
- I needed to log on to the internet to upload my article to ProQuest.
- Microsoft Word is basically attached to the cloud now, so if you don't have internet access, you don't have Word.
I was in a conundrum, and my first instinct was to break down in tears. I worked on it a bit from school, I worked on it a bit from Microsoft Word Online from a Chromebook, etc. Ultimately, those weren't sustainable options really for the back and forth I needed to have.
Do you want to know what saved the day?
Microsoft Word for my iPad. Crazy, right?! It has just enough functionality to basically be Microsoft Word for your Mac, which made making a few tiny adjustments to my thesis pretty easy. If I hadn't stopped crying to think about downloading Microsoft Word on my iPad, I would still be sobbing right now.
Yes, crying is necessary, but don't cry so much that you overpower all the important thoughts that need to come into your mind with tears.
14. Don't Lose Sight Of Your Passions
It's so easy to get lost in the rat race of completing your thesis that you lose sight of yourself. There are so many memes out there reminding you that you should probably be working on your thesis every hour of every single day. While you definitely need to make progress on your thesis, this is not a healthy sentiment for most people. You need to strike a balance between being a thesis workaholic and never working on your thesis. There is a happy middle ground.
Don't let people shame you from taking time for yourself. Working 24/7 on your thesis won't help you be a better writer. Instead, take your time, and find a few passions outside of writing. Maybe like you young adult fiction or creating your very own website where you can share your passions outside of writing your paper. Whatever that passion is, make room for it. You need it more than anything during this time.
15. Work Smarter, Not Harder
Y'all know my obsession with the pomodoro technique by now, and I have to say that this was such a beneficial technique for me while writing my thesis. I love the pomodoro technique because it gives you time to take a break, re-evaluate your focus, and more.
Without taking mandatory breaks it's easy to stare at a screen for hours looking at a blinking cursor. Instead, use the pomodoro technique so you are forced to really battle with the fact that you may not be as productive as you think you are being.
The pomodoro technique snaps me back into reality and gives me time to take a break and refocus. If you are not using this technique I really encourage you to try it out during one of your writing sessions.
16. Set Deadlines For Yourself
It is so easy to fall prey to the “I'll totally do that later” bug. Set deadlines for yourself, put them in your planner and on your wall, really let yourself know exactly what you need to be doing.
What I found more than anything is that writing a thesis is really freaking hard. No duh, Amanda, but seriously. More than likely a thesis is not something you take a ton of class credit for. It's probably going to be something that you do outside of class. When push comes to shove, it's really easy to push working on your thesis to the side because you want to focus on things like working on class projects; staying afloat with your job if you have one; participating in student organizations; and just procrastinating by doing things that are a million times more fun.
There are probably more reasons to not work on your thesis than there are to work on your thesis. As sad as that fact is, it's true.
So set major and minor deadlines. Give yourself time to create and revise your work. Really take the time necessary to create pages that you are proud of and that can stand up to your thesis committee.
17. Be Prepared For Some Publishing Expenses
Let's chat about this. For my undergraduate thesis, I just had to create a thesis for my class. For my graduate school thesis, I had to publish this thing on ProQuest for the school to have. I paid almost $140 for the bare minimum. I didn't copyright my thesis, I chose the free publishing option, etc. Instead, I ended up paying that money because the school required me to pay for 3 hardbound copies for the school.
Ultimately, I haven't even paid for a copy for myself yet. I am not sure if that is in the cards, to be honest. That wasn't exactly what I wanted to spend my money on if I am being completely honest.
You will probably have some publishing expenses though, especially at the graduate level, and maybe even at the undergraduate level depending on your school. This is an added expense around the time you will already be graduating. Make sure you know the exact cost of publishing your thesis at your school.
18. Follow Your School's Thesis Guide To A T
One of the hardest parts for me when publishing my thesis was following the thesis guide my school set up. As I talked about in the last point, we had to publish our thesis to ProQuest which meant that we had to use a specific guide that made our content ProQuest ready. This guide was quite difficult and totally nitpicky to get through. We had a checklist which was helpful, but there was still a bunch of stuff that was up in the air while I was doing this.
Don't be surprised if there are a ton of rules and regulations that you need to follow that are totally different than a regular paper. I have written a ton of papers in my lifetime, but none of the rules for those papers came anywhere close to the rules I had to follow for my thesis. Overall, it's important to know that because writing a thesis is difficult. Your thesis is a mammoth of a document so you really need to follow those guidelines so you don't mess up your document. Always save a copy of your work before you start formatting just in case you mess something up.
19. Keep Your Committee Updated (Specifically Your Chair)
I worked with my committee chair a lot during the writing process for my thesis. I didn't bug my entire committee a ton, but I worked closely with my chair and he looked at multiple versions of my thesis.
Having your committee chair look through your document as you are writing it is really helpful. Be sure that you are sending as many updates to them as possible. This will really help you avoid any issues during your thesis defense. If they are left in the dark, chances are you will feel left in the dark when it comes time for you to turn your final versions of your paper in.
Since I had kept my chair up to date I really didn't have that many suggestions to perfect my paper from my committee. My defense went really smoothly because my professors had ample time to go over everything. Since my chair had seen many versions of my thesis he was able to help me avoid sending some of the worst versions of my thesis to my committee.
20. Don't Take Breaks For Granted
I basically started my thesis process during the Summer of 2016. I definitely didn't write on my thesis as much as I should have during that year. When writing, I took my breaks for granted, and you definitely should not do that.
In my opinion, breaks go by so much faster than the school year goes. I wrote a good portion of my thesis this summer, and before I knew it we were in June and I was freaking out trying to make sure my paper was finished in time to be submitted. Don't be like me, y'all.
When you have a long break like winter, summer, and spring break–work on your freaking thesis. Yes, you will be stressed out during those breaks, but those breaks are prime time writing time. You should be taking all the time you can to write and handle research for your thesis then.
21. Understand That Theses Have Limitations
You cannot do everything for your thesis. You really need to narrow down on a topic and cover a very slim piece of research. I only had one year to work on my thesis, which isn't a small time frame, but it's just not possible for me to tackle my entire idea notebook.
One of my professors who is a qualitative sociologist was really interested in social movements, and eventually particularly how religion fits into it. For his MA thesis, he didn't set out to tackle his entire story. In fact, for his MA thesis, he didn't interview many people. With his Ph.D he interviewed way more people and even hung out with various religious groups for extended periods of time by going to their services and going to various outside of service events. He didn't try to tackle his entire research plan as a Master's level student.
I think that you have to understand that you will not be able to tackle everything right away. Depending on how much money, time, and staff your department has you may not even be able to conduct much of your own research. For example, I used a survey that was already done to conduct my research. Using a secondary data set has a lot of positives for you as a student that should be noted. Doing your own research is difficult after all. The survey that I used had over 1,000 respondents which was a much better sample than I would ever be able to create on my own.
At the end of the day, it's important to know that you won't be able to tackle all your research goals in one fell swoop. Instead, create a slice of something you would like to accomplish in the long run. Then once it's time for you to pick a dissertation topic for a Ph.D. program (if you plan to continue) you can be well on your way to doing so.
22. Don't Forget Your Ethics
Last, but certainly not least, it's important that you remember ethics. This goes for things like cheating, but it also goes for researching and mishaps that may happen. If your research requires that you submit something to the Institutional Review Board (IRB), do so. If after you set up your protocol with the IRB, something happens, you need to alert the IRB immediately.
The IRB sounds really difficult, but it is really there for your protection. If you don't follow the rules and guidelines of the IRB (or let them know immediately when something changes) you could put your entire thesis in jeopardy. The IRB wants the best for you as a student, your research participants, and the college as a whole so follow their directions. Plus, if something was to go wrong, you can only truly get help from the IRB if you were following all of the protocol they set in place.
If you think about doing something and you have to pause (for even a second) to wonder if this is going against your IRB approval, don't do it. It's not worth jeopardizing your research.
Writing a thesis is draining but you will be so happy knowing you have completed the document. There were obviously times throughout my graduate career where I regretted the decision and wish I had taken a comprehensive exam instead, but I think that is a totally normal thing to think when you are in the thick of creating your thesis and you aren't sure that you will ever finish it.
At the end of the day, my thesis is definitely one of my crowning achievements. I wasn't sure if I would ever complete it, but it's done. Writing your thesis will be difficult no matter what topic you choose, but it's important to not give up. If you ever any questions or concerns about tackling your thesis contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am always here to answer your questions and talk about my personal experience writing my thesis with you.
Are you currently writing a thesis? What was your favorite part of this series?