How to survive your Master Thesis
Updated on: 13 December 2021
After finishing coursework in the first study year, the next step to fulfill the requirements of a master’s degree at Wageningen University is to conduct an individual thesis project.
For many students, doing research sounds fascinating yet frustrating, especially if it is their first master’s programme. I am writing this article during my deserved holiday after surviving an intensive 6 month period of my master’s thesis. If you are about to start off your thesis (or even if you already started), I have some useful advice for you based on my own experience.
Choose a topic that boosts your endorphins
Choose the topic that you think it will make you wake up motivated in the morning.
A thesis is a huge task. It is like a job, not homework anymore. Imagine that if you are looking for a full-time job, you would rather commit to your dream job than a random job you don’t feel interested in, wouldn’t you? Hence, it is important to pick a thesis topic that you are passionately excited about because you have to spend several months living with it. Choose the topic that will make you wake up motivated in the morning!
In some cases, it might not be possible to choose a topic that completely fulfills your expectations. In that case, my advice is to brainstorm with your supervisor about what ways there could be to make it more suitable for your interests. Maybe a type of analysis you want to try or look up what are the gaps in current research related to your field that you could address in your project.
Set up your “thesis o’clock”
Don’t postpone the alarm 10 times and end up arriving in the office at noon.
During the first months of a thesis period, many students think they have plenty of time. Then in the last few months, they go to work like zombies because they don’t get enough sleep trying to finish everything by deadlines (me either!). One lesson I have learned in the past 6 months is that managing your thesis time professionally will make your life much easier later on. If you set up your thesis o’clock at 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. on weekdays, build it up as a routine. Don’t postpone the alarm 10 times and end up arriving at the office at noon. Work productively during your thesis hour and after that, allow yourself to have some free time to do anything you want, either hang out with friends, practice some sports or be as lazy as you desire.
Decorate your thesis corner
I believe that if your working environment is inspiring and relaxing, people’s productivity will increase.
I believe that if the working environment is inspiring and relaxing, people’s productivity will increase. If you receive a personal desk at an office, decorate the desk in your favorite style. For example, I had some little cactus, an inspirational quote, a picture of my idol on my thesis topic, colorful highlight pens, and chocolate supply. I loved working in that small space. When I felt bored, watering the cactus and looking at the surroundings would improve my mood. If you don’t have your own office, just seek your favorite space. It may be at home, a coffee shop, or a computer desk with a good view of the library. You know yourself the best, so please don’t choose home sweet home if you know you would be distracted by a fridge or a comfy bed very soon!
Always set goals and have plans
They will pull you back on track and remind you those old intentions you had at the beginning of the thesis.
Similar to thesis o’clock, it is very helpful to have goals and plans to keep you on track and on time. Write down not only long-term plans for the final thesis results, but also short-term doable schedules, and always keep them updated. What do you expect to derive in the final report? How much work should you complete within the first 3 months? What will you achieve at the end of this week? And therefore, what do you have to finish today? But remember, set realistic goals and allow yourself to modify your plans if needed. Thesis work can be unpredictable.
At some points, you may feel lost. Sometimes experiments fails, unexpected problems occur, or you suddenly become inactive and bored. It can be stressful, then you start to wonder what you are doing and why unlucky situations happen to you. At that state, having strong goals and plans will benefit you. They will pull you back on track and remind you of those old intentions you had at the beginning of the thesis. Keep in mind that even though you might fall down several times, you can always get up and continue running to the finish line!
Allow yourself to have some timeouts
Being a hard-working researcher is nice but after all, you should know your limit and treat yourself well. You may have limited time and huge pressure to finish your thesis according to your scholarship or graduation plan. However, health comes first. Don’t force yourself to run to the finish line when you know you are about to faint. It is not worth it in the end. If you cannot solve a problem, leave it behind for a while and just spend time enjoying something else. Working with zero motivation will take you nowhere.
Seek for motivations
Motivations are everywhere but they are hard to see when we are upset. Visiting your friends’ thesis colloquiums can fill up your dry motivation tank. It helps you realize that you also want to stand there, talking proudly about what you discovered in your thesis research. If they can do it, why can’t you?
Another way is to talk to your friends who are also currently doing theses. I bet they will tell you that they also face some difficulties and crazy problems. Share yours and support them.
Reading some published papers or news within your study field is also a good idea. There are many researchers out there that succeed in their studies after they have failed many more times than you have ever tried. This is your chance to prove you are the other one.
Celebrate little things
A big achievement comes from many little successes. So cheer yourself up when you accomplish a small task. Be an encourager for yourself and I can guarantee that in the end, you will feel thankful.
Good luck on your thesis. You will proudly survive!
(My final thesis report)