Information compiled by the GradSchools.com team - last updated November 2010
Last month we presented ways to manage stress while attending graduate school. To further our discussion, we would like to offer you tips on how to effectively manage your graduate thesis writing. Today, with an increased number of graduate students juggling work schedules and parenting roles, thesis writing can easily become one of the most challenging experiences in one's educational career. However, don't fret - you can get through it! And in the following paragraphs we will show you how.
The face of the average graduate student has dramatically changed over the years. For many individuals, retaining their marketability in today's working environment means returning to school to pursue a graduate degree. While speaking with one graduate student who is currently working on her thesis, I was surprised to learn that the majority of her classmates were individuals between the ages of 30 and 55, each of them juggling their own versions of thesis writing and family life.
With September slowly creeping around the corner many students are excitedly anticipating their graduate school experience. However, when one begins to think about his or her thesis requirement, ambivalence soon sets in. I remember the evening when my classmates and I were introduced to our thesis advisor. He held up a completed thesis and stated, "All of you will be handing me one of these." Now, my first thought was - Panic Attack! However, when I finally dove into the project, I was soon to learn that an excellent thesis writing strategy was developed many years ago- work on one chapter at a time, so you don't become anxious by the magnitude of the assignment. Remember, it's all about perception.
Tips on managing your thesis effectively
1. First and foremost as one graduate student stresses, "Make sure you have a passion for your topic!" You will be working on the assignment for quite some time. And if you're not passionate about your topic, it will show in your final product. Think of your thesis as a job. The same way you are expected to show up for work each day, you are also expected to work on your thesis regularly. Most importantly, from the onset be sure to enlighten all of those around you about how important your thesis writing is to you. When others realize the value you place on your thesis, they will too. Even if you find that you cannot devote the same amount of time every day on your thesis, try to at least work on it on a regular basis. This will help to keep ideas and related materials fresh in your mind. You can easily become very frustrated when you have to refresh your thoughts each time you sit down to work on your thesis. And always remember the one key factor crucial for any project-organization! Organize, organize, organize. Prepare a filing system and purchase folders and Post-it notes (they will soon become your best friends).
2. Another crucial factor in thesis writing is know your individual learning style. Try to determine early on in your thesis writing which hours of the day you are most productive, and most of all, least distracted. If you are a parent you may not want to work on your project soon after the kids arrive home from school. You don't want to view them as a major roadblock, and you don't want them to feel that way either. I, myself, often found late night hours to be perfect time slots. People, especially children are less active, and less demanding during this time. The atmosphere is conducive to reading, thinking and writing. One graduate student I spoke with stated that early morning to mid-day worked best for her. In doing so, her thesis writing did not cut into her quality time with her family. Other students have also shared with me that staying late at the office to work on their thesis proved more productive than waiting until they arrived home. Oftentimes, once we walk through the front door, the sofa and the television become instant, enticing relaxants. And the later you arrive home, the less things tend to bother you. You're much too tired to be preoccupied with an untidy home.
3. Thesis writing doesn't only happen at the computer desk or in the library. Our thought processes do not need to cease once we walk away from our desk. I always like to think of it as taking a little bit with you wherever you go. For example, while working on the survey creation portion of my thesis, my creative energy came to a complete halt while sitting at my computer desk. Thankfully, there were times when I would discuss my thesis topic with my relatives and friends, and much to my surprise many of them came up with excellent suggestions. Even while doing such mundane chores as cleaning the house, scrubbing out the fish bowl, ideas would begin to assimilate in my mind. On many occasions I found myself running to find a pen and pencil so I could write down my ideas. One graduate student majoring in education, after having talked about her thesis topic at her job, several of her colleagues furnished her with text books written by researchers in the field. Networking is an excellent way to gain valuable information.
4. Try to hold off on major life changes while working on your thesis. Resist the urge to begin house hunting or refurnishing the living room, or entertaining relatives from distant lands. One graduate student I've recently spoken with had the bittersweet experience of having her husband ecstatically announce that his relatives from Germany would be arriving at their home in two weeks. She had become so immersed in her dissertation writing that she had forgotten all about their planned visit. Needless to say, her project was put on hold and she later found herself in a coffee shop discussing her dilemma with her thesis advisor. The advisor assisted her in setting up a new submission schedule and soon she was right on track again. Hey, life happens - but it is not the end of the world!
5. Set realistic goals. Don't only set a long-range goal, 'By July 15 I intend to complete my thesis.' You're setting yourself up for failure. Instead, set short-term goals. For example, 'By the end of next week I will have devoted at least ten hours to my thesis.' You'd be amazed how setting up short-term goals actually motivates people. Also keep in mind that your thesis advisor will be setting completion goals for each individual student also, so there will be a time frame by which you will have t o abide. Most importantly, if at the end of the week you have achieved your goal, reward yourself. Human beings thrive on reward systems.