So I have been hiding in a little cave recently, finishing my thesis, and have resurfaced just in time to enjoy the BEAUTIFUL summer weather we have been having here in Stockholm!! (See Andrew’s post about our recent summer weather!)
One of my wonderful fellow Digital Ambassadors recently mentioned she is interested in knowing about the thesis process, as she is a first year student in Public Health and is already thinking ahead to what next year will be like. The thesis that most masters students have to complete differs immensely between program and project but the basic timeline and level of grief is as follows:
1) Few months of brainstorming: As my program is only a year, I’m not sure how it would translate to two year programs but generally we all started brainstorming about our thesis ideas and options in November/December. This is the time that you connect with your lecturers, ask who has a project in your area of interest, send inquiry emails to organizations and people in an area you would like to look into. This is the time to really check out every possibility! A lot of people I’ve spoken to recently who are just finishing their first year of their degree are super anxious that they don’t know what they will do their thesis on and this is ok! It is never obvious and sometimes opportunities and ideas just hit you and you go with it 🙂 It is also a good idea to explore a lot of different subfields of your field since you never know what you might find that you didn’t know you were interested in! Stress level: Low to medium, you’re only anxious if others have found something and you haven’t yet!
2) Pre-thesis time: You think you have found an area/project you’d like to explore and now you’re trying to narrow down either a supervisor or a specific research question! Alternatively, you’ve found a supervisor and project and just trying to wrap your mind around what kind of work is needed to analyze the data and come up with a useful conclusion or recommendation. This is a doubtful time, as you’re continuously trying to work your mind around what, where, when, and mostly HOW you are going to do this thing called a thesis. For those without a supervisor, you’re frantically scrambling around trying to find someone who will take you on as their young jedi in training and an extra burden in this phase is for those who are going abroad for their research, hello multiple tabs on flight deal websites and pre-travel vaccines!!! Stress level: Low to high, depending on how much you have to organize (if you’re going abroad) and how easy it is to find a supervisor/project.
3) First month of thesis: In our program, we finished our classes at the beginning of February and our thesis deadline was May 15th. Needless to say that this date seems UNIVERSES away in February so I’d rather now admit to it but I did very little work during this time. Which I paid for in May. So I wouldn’t recommend slacking off in this month but alas, some people (ahem like me ahem) need a close deadline in order to kick themselves into gear. Stress level: Pretty low, the end is far far away and you should probably be doing more work than you actually are but you have no mandatory classes, yippee!!
4) Second month of thesis: This month is when you start thinking maybe you should do something, so you look at your data a bit more, playing around with it and thinking about what you could do with it. Our program offered 3 weeks of review for research methods so this month is when most of us actually started our work on our thesis. Data collection and analysis is during this time, plus reworking the idea you have of your thesis, perhaps refining your research question or narrowing your scope, as it is common that your big ideas of what you want to do and the timeframe you are given don’t always align. Stress level: Again, it should have been a bit higher but I didn’t really feel it (maybe because I was procrastinating!!)
5) Third month of thesis: This is the month where the countdown to the thesis deadline becomes a little more worrisome…and all you procrastinators out there start thinking about maybe closing Facebook for a bit and getting some work done on this paper thing you’re supposed to be doing instead. For me, this was the months I really got into my thesis and starting actually liking it! Once you have pulled some results from your data, it gets a little bit more exciting and your work feels less useless 🙂 You are wrapping up your data collection and analysis, gathering your articles to help you write, and maybe you are even writing already (you go-getter, you!). This is definitely when the end seems near… Stress level: Medium to high. You have HOW MUCH TIME left?!?! Eeek.
6) Last two weeks before thesis is due: This is when you are double-checking your data and analysis and praying you haven’t made one tiny little error somewhere that could have skewed all of your results and conclusions. I can’t say I slept much in this period, and was constantly on my computer (even when commuting), trying to work and re-work sentences, charts, conclusions, etc. If you have been on your game this whole time, you are probably submitting it to your supervisors and enjoying some free time while they offer their suggestions before you edit the final draft, well done you! Stress level: Uber high. Thesis deadline is in only a number of days. Perhaps even a number you can count on one hand, no fun.
7) Thesis submission: It is like a boulder was sitting on your shoulders for the past month and you’re friends are relieved to see that you are actually alive, they haven’t seen or heard from you for quite a while and were a bit worried!! You apologize for being a hermit and perhaps a bit grumpy recently and you rejoice in the normal things that you used to do, like general hygiene, sleep, eating well, exercising and being sociable. Stress level: What stress? You are freeeeeee
8) The next step is to prepare your thesis presentation and defend it. A step that can be a bit intimidating since the examiners are quite thorough. But all in all you have completed a paper and are generally thrilled about it and are frolicking in the Swedish summer weather already 🙂
Hope all you procrastinators out there take note for next year!!