How do you solve a problem like Maria write a thesis, anyway?

I haven’t been blogging much lately; I’ve had an awful lot going on in my personal, work, and of course academic life, as I’m working on my thesis, which has been rough going. I realized tonight that I didn’t go into this project with a very good idea of what “working on my thesis” actually meant. I’m still a little vague, but figured I’d share what I’ve learned so far.

First, though, let me give a hugely grateful shoutout to the Thesis Whisperer: Just like the horse whisperer, but with more pages. 🙂 In addition to having a great tagline, this blog is chock full of helpful advice and resources, covering all the bases from emotional to academic to practical. I have not found every article to be applicable to my situation (program, project, discipline, field), but that only goes to show how broad its scope is. If you are now or are thinking of writing a thesis, get ye to the ThesisWhisperer for some good stuff.

Actually, it was reading that blog that started to broaden my idea of what “working on my thesis” meant. I had a vague idea that if I was
– on a library or database crawl
– reading and/or taking notes on material
– writing a response paper and/or blog post
– writing or revising a chapter

then I was “working on my thesis.” But there’s actually way more than that! There’s also

– thinking about the material
– thinking about ways to think about the material
– looking for gaps in my material that I need to fill
– planning the structure or flow of an argument
– breaking what I’ve written down into finer-grained blocks that I can move around
– looking for gaps in my argument
– figuring out new workflows that will work for me
– learning new tools to support the workflow
– comparing and integrating what I’ve written into new, stronger forms
– interacting with my adviser
– thinking about how to address my adviser’s comments on my drafts
– taking notes on what I’ve written with todo items, things to get back to, and references that need to be looked up
– looking up and organizing references
– organizing the piles of books, papers, and notes
– backing up my writing and my data (Seriously, do not overlook this part!!)

One very important thing about this list is that there are a lot of different kinds of activities on it, and they don’t all require the same kind of mental alertness. Which is especially good news for somebody who’s trying to write a thesis while she has a lot going on in her personal and professional life…. 😉

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4 Responses to How do you solve a problem like Maria write a thesis, anyway?

  1. Don’t forget how important it is to spend time not working on your thesis, time when your unconscious can make its very rich contribution to the project. Otherwise, having been too much in your mind, you might go out of it!

    • Thanks! Yes, good point: I noticed yesterday, after having spent a couple hours in the afternoon working on the thesis, then going off to church and then out for dinner, that while driving home afterwards, I was starting to make connections between things that hadn’t occurred to me while just sitting in front of the computer. Yay, unconscious! 🙂

  2. Derek says:

    I agree, working on a thesis is a tough part of being a student. But the activities as you go through it makes the work enjoyable.

    • Well, I suspect that different activities are enjoyable to different people, and no one will find all the activities enjoyable! I myself purely dislike the “now where did I read that???” reference hunt. Sometimes it is seeing how the product is shaping up, rather than the process, that is more enjoyable.

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