Some Do’s and Don’ts for Thesis Writers Present and Future

One of the unfortunate side effects of writing a thesis is that you essentially vanish from campus – your non-thesis-writing peers don’t see much of you. The result? A lot of valuable information about the thesis writing process, information that could be shared from one year to the next, just gets discarded at the start of the summer. The following Do’s and Don’ts are my modest attempt to get around this problem, by sharing some of the things I’ve learned along the way.

I’m very proud of the work I accomplished on my thesis, and pleased to say that, if technology cooperates, this post should go live right in the middle of my thesis defense. I am just the first of five gnovis staffers to defend, so I hope that over the next few weeks some of my colleagues will chip in their thoughts in the comments – and I’d also love to hear from any of our readers who are writing a thesis this spring.

So, without further ado, when writing your thesis…

Do blog about it long before your thesis semester starts. I only wrote about a half dozen posts, but it really helped me wade through my topic and gave me a HUGE head start on my lit review. My peers were very jealous when I had 50 pages written before the end of January.

Don’t let paperwork wait until the very end. I happened to have a mercurial topic and a really flexible advisor, so my proposal stayed in flux way longer than it should have. Then, all of the sudden, deadlines were upon me and everyone was gone for Easter break, and much stress ensued. (Thanks, Heather Kerst, for making everything right!)

Do schedule three or four weeks between your first full draft and your defense, to allow time for you to work on your revisions AND your presentation without running yourself into the ground. The revisions will help you prepare your presentation, and vice versa, but only if they aren’t competing for your attention.

Don’t freak out everytime you get tough feedback from your committee. That’s what they’re there for and, at least in my case, each time that I spent an entire weekend wallowing in despair because “OMG! They totally hate it!” I later heard promising words like “You’re way ahead of schedule and doing great work, you just need to reorganize this chapter – it’s confusing.”

Do get plenty of sleep. I discovered melatonin supplements during mid March and I think they doubled my productivy by forcing me to get truly rested.

Don’t take a melatonin supplement when you don’t have 8 hours to spare, especially after a nightcap. No combination of Tylenol and coffee will erase the misery.

Do accept that there is more literature than you can review. Way more. I feel like I only covered about 30% of the literature that I wanted to cover, and I wasted at least 20 days wading through more literature when I should have been working on my chapters.

Don’t be stingy. This is a time to be good to yourself, to be a little indulgent, and to eliminate non-thesis stress whereever you can. I’m guessing I dropped an extra $100 to $150 per month this semester, on quick (but mostly healthy) food. I consider that money VERY well spent, because I know that, otherwise, I would have eaten junk or had a panic attack in the grocery line.

Do say thank you to everyone in your life who has put up with your manic behavior all semester long. Roommates, lovers, family, friends, and coworkers, thank them all for picking up the slack in your life.

That’s what I’ve got for now. Please chime in with other Do’s and Don’ts.

 

 

p.s. I’m done!!!!

Brad Weikel

Brad Weikel received his MA in Communication, Culture & Technology (CCT) from Georgetown University in 2009. His thesis, "From Coding to Community: Iteration, Abstraction, and Open Source Software Development" argued that programming practices, particularly iterative workflows and abstraction models, can help explain both the success and struggles of open source software. His work was a technocentric complement to prior explanations from economists, lawyers, and political and cultural theorists. While writing his thesis, Brad blogged about his topic at OpenCulture.cc, where he has since continued blogging, more broudly, about collaborative production and the commons at large. Brad was Managing Editor of gnovis during the 2007/2008 and 2008/2009 school years, and Creative Director in 2006/2007. He is currently the Web & Communications Coordinator for EarthRights International.