Tips For Writing Your Thesis

Flowers are blooming, baseball is back and sunny days are on the horizon.  You know what that means… Springtime is here!  One of the hallmarks of spring in academia is graduation, with many students writing up their theses and wrapping up their PhD studies to join new labs or jobs over the summer.  It is both an exhilarating and frantic time in any PhD student’s career.  Writing a thesis is something everyone must do to graduate, but we at Labguru want to make sure that your thesis writing experience is organized, stress-free and most importantly, successful.  Here are some of our tips for writing your thesis:

Make sure you are actually ready to write – get on the same page as your advisor

There’s no question that impatience and eagerness to graduate permeate most students’ fifth year in graduate school.  We’ve all been there.  However, getting your advisor’s final go-ahead to start your thesis is only the first step.  Set up a series of meetings to discuss major thesis content, the story that you want to tell and any last obstacles that your committee might bring up.  I worked in a large lab, with a very hands-off advisor, so it was really up to me to take the initiative to get my advisor’s time, attention and input.  Believe it or not, there are horror stories of students trying to rush their thesis, only to fail their defense, have to rewrite a thesis or delay graduation.

Organize all materials first

When starting any ambitious project, organization is the difference between just carrying it out and carrying it out successfully.  In the strictest sense, this means gathering all materials related to your PhD studies—and you can amass a lot over 4-5 years!—and weeding out what will be included in your thesis.  Will you convert all of your papers to chapters, and if so, which ones?  Start planning major figures and preparing them in Photoshop.  Use your laboratory management software to create a folder dedicated to your thesis, and gather all major data, photographs, scans, papers, and other pertinent data.  You don’t want to be knee-deep in Chapter 3 only to realize that you need additional experiments or data analysis.

Catalogue references ahead of time

Programs such as EndNote, facilitating annotation and organization of all references collected throughout one’s studies, are critical tools in making thesis writing easier and quicker.  Not only can you readily insert a reference while writing, EndNote (and similar programs) will automatically format your thesis to whatever publication guidelines your university adheres to.  In addition, you can synchronize your drafting and reference programs to automatically reformat footnotes and numbering as any changes to your thesis are made.  Small timesaving efforts such as these will accumulate and go a long way towards making the overall writing process more seamless.