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How to Reduce Panic Over Thesis Writing

Posted in: PhD Survival
Thesis writing

The mere mention of thesis writing causes many students to instantly reach for their panic button. I was no different. I was freaking out about the mere thought of all that writing. However, after successfully preparing and defending my thesis, I learned that the process is just that, a process.

Below are 5 points I think you will find useful to help you overcome such anxiety during the writing stage of your PhD program.

Set a Thesis Defense Date

At your next thesis committee meeting, tell your committee members that you plan on graduating in the next six months. Then, start to set a date for the defense. This is important for two reasons.  The first is that you have to find a date that will work for all committee members.  Remember these  individuals most likely have very hectic schedules. This is even more important if you just happen to want to have your defense during everyone’s vacation time. Secondly, setting a date makes the thought of graduation seem more real and within your reach.

Plan Around Your Thesis Defense Date

Setting a thesis defense date gives you a deadline. Of course you will need to have your work completed ahead of this date to give your committee members enough time to review it. Some PhD programs have a strict timeline but if yours does not, ask your committee members if two weeks prior to the defense will be enough.

When making your schedule, be realistic with the timeline for each task and plan your daily activities accordingly for the next 4 months. Also, you will need to plan all those last minute experiments within this time frame as well. Don’t forget the time you need for analyzing and interpreting the data. This can help tremendously. Although it might take a few hours to write the schedule, you will most likely maximize your time and efforts. Overall, the schedule will help you be very thorough and serves as a great blueprint.

Your Thesis Defense Date is the Light at the End of the Tunnel

Setting a thesis defense date will serve as your light at the end of the tunnel. During your last six months of graduate school, you may feel overworked and stressed beyond measure. However, you can ease your mind by focusing on the thesis date as the day that it will all end. The countdown to your defense date will give you strength because it is a constant reminder of how far you have traveled. It is also a source of hope, since if you continue to push forward, you will undoubtedly reach the end.

Your Thesis Writing Does Not Have to Start Out Perfectly

When you start writing, you may have a tendency to rewrite the same sentence, paragraph or section over and over and over. However, this can make you more stressed when you start thinking about how much time you are spending on the same sentence or paragraph or section. Don’t do this!

Take a step back and redirect your energy using the mantra, done is better than perfect.  Commit yourself to writing your thesis with the same rule. This means no erasing, or rephrasing, just a free flowing of your thoughts on paper (sounds simple). Just get the idea on paper before you start editing. This helps you to stay within your planned writing schedule.

Thesis Writing is Only One Part of Your Graduate School Journey

I think it is very important to realize that thesis writing is only one part of your graduate school journey, the last piece of the puzzle. To get to this stage of your graduate program, I’m sure that you have already overcome many other challenges while in graduate school. Draw your strength from those previous struggles that you overcame.  Hang in there and you will complete this phase of the journey as well. Take it one minute at a time, one experiment at a time, and in the case of thesis writing, one page at a time.  Before you know it, you will have a complete thesis (a collection of words that together give a summary of part of your graduate school journey). Maybe even ahead of your deadline!

I urge you to just keep pushing forward and looking at the light at the end of the tunnel. After all, you have already come a long way.

Best of luck!

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