Writing THE thesis

Ok, I admit it, for this post, I was provided inspiration. I have recently discovered Sarah Shailes’ blog. She is also a plant scientist, has recently finished her PhD and is now working in scientific writing.

I kind’ve skipped stages 1 and 2 she describes; denial and acceptance. I gave myself 4 months and was pretty tough on myself to achieve this. WARNING: 4 months is doable but TIGHT! Leave yourself longer if you know you are a slow writer. I was also looking forward to seeing all my results and accomplishments compiled in one place and finally making sense of the bigger picture! 

Starting out
The tough bit was starting… There is a blank page on your screen and it is tempting to start with your ‘title’. My advice is before you write, get the story straight. I put all my figures together first, arranged them in order, and into their ‘designated chapters’.

Can I ACTUALLY write the thing already?!
So my figures took a while… (2 weeks, and I did actually have some already made…). But after this I went through and drafted my figure legends; time consuming and a little boring but this enabled me to work out precisely what my data meant.

OhOhOH NOW I am actually going to write my THESIS
Don’t panic, break it down. I allocated myself 2 weeks per chapter and 1 week for the final tying together and also a buffer period for any mishaps. This meant that I refrained from being (too) overwhelmed, focusing on it piece by piece.

This is going swimmingly!
I got into the flow, and suddenly it all became a lot easier…

Until, writer’s block
There will come a point where you just cannot push yourself any further. You’ve exhausted your ideas and have almost lost your way. At this point, draft in your supervisor to check it over. I cannot stress enough how vital my supervisor was in this process.

It’s done! (Almost)
The revisions are back, the editing is underway, so just the simple task of formatting to go then…

Advice: set your margins, font size etc AT THE START. This makes formatting a whole lot easier. Most people tend to write each chapter in a separate document because the files just get so big! I am also an organisational perfectionist. I did my references by hand, my contents tables by hand, and added page numbers to each chapter file separately. This meant a significant decrease in the chances of my figures jumping around when converting to PDF. It worked! I converted each chapter to PDF and merged them using this tool.

I have also heard that LaTex overcomes a lot of these issues.

Printing, binding, hand in. The easiest part of the process. I had nightmares the night after hand in that I had missed something out. But only the viva will tell… and so the wait begins.

A good scientist will never take credit for another’s idea, and so I would like to Sarah Shailes’ ’10 stages of PhD thesis writing’ post and thank her for letting me use it 🙂


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