Reflections on thesis (not quite) writing

So you may remember that a short while ago I finished my data collection and also started the process of analysing my transcripts from a series of interviews and focus groups. This process took quite a while because I had over sixty participants in my first case study and then twelve each in my second two case studies. Whilst working on my internship between April and June I was able to code some of the data which meant that I was ready for my main task after internship completion of writing up my thesis. This (to me) is the biggest task of the thesis I have had so far and something that makes or breaks the thesis – it’s a piece of cake, right? (question: do I need to reference my cake recipe haha???)

Piece of cake, right?  **I did not get to eat a piece of this cake I made!**

At this point in time (when I was just finishing my internship) I had nothing to do on my thesis but write, write and keep writing. However once I had finished my internship I knew that this task of writing would not be as easy as I thought. I have not written a thesis before and the structure of my thesis is somewhat basic. I therefore decided that writing plan was needed so that I knew what I needed to do and when.

On first day back after my internship I started to write this writing plan and set goals, targets and smaller steps towards completing my thesis chapters. However whilst writing this writing plan I discovered that I do not have a lot of time between now and the start of my new job in November. This means I do not have full working weeks after November 19th and this scared me a little (although only technically its only 6 full time weeks until submission). I therefore had to be very specific in my writing plan and make sure all of my major tasks are scheduled to be completed (by the plan) before my time as a full time student is up . Again I found this somewhat difficult because I was not able to visualise the next few months ahead and plan my weeks quickly in advance. I struggled at first but I made sure that I had to look at my calendar to see my other commitments (such as conference presentations and attendance and also guest lectures). These commitments were anticipated to hinder (well completely stop) my PhD writing. I had to make sure that all additional tasks were accounted for so that I could work on my thesis chapters to draft them to a decent level. Once I had accounted for all of the additional tasks, I was able to make a week by week plan and ask my supervisors what they thought of my plan for my first supervision after my internship. My supervisors gave the general go-ahead on this (although we still need to work out drafts and dates etc) and gave some advice that I think I should share. So here is the advice I received:

[Paraphrased to reflect all advice in one conversation]

‘Please do let us know if you’re not able to keep to this plan of the goals and targets you have set yourself…we know that things may get in the way and this job is something of a big change to you and your working routine. You may find that you are exhausted, tired and are not able to do some of the work when you think you can… This is okay as we know it is a big change for you and your thesis progression**. The overall aim now is for you to submit the thesis and it doesn’t have to be perfect, but of a good standard (appropriate) for submission and assessment (the Viva).  We can roughly plan when your Viva may be but we cannot plan this for sure until you officially submit. We therefore want you to focus more on submitting and writing your thesis to a good standard rather that what may happen after…’

**they emphasised the changes ahead a lot!

This advice from my supervisors was sound. My supervisors know what they are talking about. They have had students have thesis submission delays, students get jobs and students succeed so they know what can and will (possibly) happen. My priorities in terms of the time I can devote to my thesis is almost definitely going to change in the near future. This means I will not be able to spend a full weeks’ worth of work on my thesis after November and the things I want to get done may have to chance. I have designed my writing plan to account for this change in schedule and to attempt to work out what can be plausible and what cannot.

However (as noted as a potential risk by one of my supervisors) at the moment my plan is not going to plan. Since returning to the office from my internship I have had a virus (with a lovely combination of tonsillitis and mild gastritis) which has meant I have been out of action for a couple of weeks. This has also meant that my thesis writing has been out of action for a couple of weeks and I have gotten myself behind in what I wanted to do. On telling my supervisors that this was the case, their (all three of them) main concern was not of my doctoral thesis but with of my own health. All of my supervisors now know that if I am not too well and do not rest, I tend to relapse and my illness comes back twice as bad. With this in mind one of my supervisors told me to get well soon and to focus on me (not the thesis).  To me this makes me realise that my supervisory team know a lot more about their own students (including me) than what I think. They also understand and acknowledge that sometimes things happen and sometimes things don’t go to plan. I’m grateful for the attitude (and behaviours) of my supervisors and the fact that they don’t freak out when I cannot complete some work due to ill health or other commitments. I’m not saying they don’t worry about progress however!

IMG_6106
These pens have survived for 3 years… hopefully now until thesis submission

I’m now getting back on my feet now after having some treatment but this will take a while to settle down properly. I’m starting to get back into routine of writing but I am still struggling. I am struggling to find motivation to want to write and I’m struggling to find the motivation to finish my thesis. I partly blame the fact that I have a job to go to in November I am very impatient and I just want to get started quickly as possible. However I need to realise for myself that my thesis is a priority at the moment and that this needs writing before I am able to start my job properly. With this in mind I am trying to find the motivation that I have lost because I know that if I do not have a decent standard of thesis draft before I leave for my job I will really not enjoy the first few weeks of my job as I’m hoping to do.

So if anyone has any good advice on how to increase PhD writing motivation then please do share them with me! For now, I have the help of my supervisors to give me reassurance/motivation when I think things are going wrong and they are really not… and the help of my own baking to distract me when things get tough.

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