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I have a friend who is in a bit of a struggle mentally right now. He is currently in the process of trying to get a paper published. In my program, published articles are your chapters, so he is essentially writing one of his thesis chapters. He is experiencing panic because this is the only chapter that he has written and he graduates next year! This is causing a ton of anxiety because what he’s doing is thinking about the future and everything that he has to do. This is a major problem in graduate school.
I have the same problem. I see how much work needs to be done and the timeframe it has to be done in. This has kept me up at night on more than one occasion. Writing your thesis is a herculean task and that’s why not many people go to grad school. Honestly, writing a book practically, on a subject that might be pretty insignificant, doesn’t really appeal to many people. It has to be done, unfortunately.
If you are doing grad school and have to write a thesis, here’s a couple of suggestions for getting started and not going completely insane. I know I haven’t written a list in a while, so I figured I would :).
1) Stop thinking about how much you have to do.
This is sooooooo important. When you think of having to write three papers, do experiments, water the plants, feed the chickens, pass your classes, etc., this will create anxiety like no other. Instead of thinking in the future, ask yourself “what do I need to do today?” Start off small because small steps get you places. If you worry about all of the stuff you need to do, you may not even put forth effort to do those things. You are more likely to procrastinate.
2) Write a little each day.
This is good for many reasons, but I want to share 2 in particular. 1) writing each day will get you used to writing in general. I have this blog to sort of dust off the cobwebs. Writing takes practice and you need to work your way up to being able to write a whole paper. It’s a hard skill, but over time you get better. 2) You will begin to chip away at the thesis. You do not have to write 4 pages a day, everyday. But 500 words a day will help you finish your thesis is no time. 500 words is also quite sustainable and realistic. That will take you maybe an hour a day. Check out my blog on writing each day (link here). This can help you get started.
3) Never go for perfection. Well, at least at the beginning.
The hardest thing is just getting started. My best advice is to just write. Don’t worry about formatting. Don’t worry about spelling. Just write. Write down everything. This will get you started and going. You can always go back and edit. Heck, if you have an adviser that edits a ton, just write and make them do it lol. Just writing will create the motivation to continue. I have a pretty decent article on motivation and how it’s created by doing something instead of waiting for motivation (link here). This is the same situation. Just write and edit later.
4) Find someone in your department that is also starting to write.
Be their accountabilibuddy!!! Keep them on a schedule and they will keep you on a writing schedule. You can almost make a competition. One day you write 100 words and they write 200. Well you have to outdo them the next day. Next thing you know, you are both writing 5 pages a day and your thesis is done. I am hoping to try this in the spring. I want to finish by the end of summer so I need to stay on the writing grind.
5) Make sure to take breaks form writing.
This may be the most important one of all. The best thesis is a finished thesis and you can’t finish unless you are able to write. Burn out is a major problem and taking breaks is how you prevent that. I write about taking breaks in grad school, check it out when you are taking your break! (link here). Rest is essential to continue this journey. Take time off to recoup.
6) Stick to a schedule. This includes a workout schedule!!!
Sometimes it is really easy to just do stuff sporadically. This may work, but establishing a schedule will increase productivity. This means incorporating exercise into your schedule!!! Make a schedule where you work hard from 9 to 5 or something then go to the gym afterwards. If you follow a pretty set schedule, you’ll be productive in multiple ways. I would stick to your phd work as a full time job. 9 to 5 each day then rest afterwards. This works for me, but it may not work for everyone. Try something similar and see what works best for your productivity.
Writing your thesis is exciting! It means you get to finish your degree and you are contributing something to the world. It is a difficult task but you can do it, I promise. If you have questions about starting or just want tips, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I can give you more advice and maybe you can give me some more advice too and I am sure need some when writing this beast of a paper lol. I hope you all have an awesome day. Thanks for reading.
These are great tips Ben! I can relate to them all having completed an Honours Undergrad Thesis, a Masters’ thesis, and a Doctoral dissertation. THE SCHEDULE IS EVERYTHING Give my best to your friend. He is blessed by you! Dr. D
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