Since my last post I have submitted my PhD (yay!). So, I thought the best way to update you on my progress was to summarize, from my own experience, what I have learnt from the writing up and submission time.
– Start writing early. I know this sounds like a typical thing to say, but it’s an important point to make. If you have something other than a blank page to start with, writing up feels like less of a mountain to climb. Plus, you know most about the details of what you are doing when you are doing it. Hence, it is much easier to write up say an experiment from your first year after completing it instead of trying to remember 2 or 3 years later exactly what you did.
– Set regular and realistic goals and stick to them. With my deadline rapidly approaching, I started to set myself writing goals, they were tough ones, but I knew if I kept working I could make them. This also helped keep the stress levels down – I had a plan and could reassuringly see the finish line.
– Determine what is and isn’t going into your thesis. I hate to break this to you, but not everything you have slaved over for 3 or 4 years will make it into your thesis. We do a lot of things to get methods working, to decide what we are going to do etc and not all of that is relevant to the final outcome. Hence, you need to decide what the story of your PhD is and what is most relevant to that story. Plus, if you know what is going in, you can focus on writing it rather than wasting lots of time writing everything up only for your supervisors to turn around and suggest you remove most of it.
– Try to focus on getting things done rather then worrying about the time you have left. This one is much easier said than done! Worrying is unproductive and will only make you feel more stressed. Instead of worrying make plans of how you are going to get through the work that is worrying you. Send bits of writing to your supervisors on a regular basis so you can keep getting feedback and advice. This also ensures that you are all on the same page and in agreement with the content and its organisation. Your supervisors are a valuable source of information and advice during the write up period so make the most of them.
– Get into a routine. Try working different hours in different places until you find the balance that work’s best for you and makes you the most productive. I tended to do any data analysis at uni and then write at home to avoid wasting time commuting and therefore stressing me out before I even started work! Once you get into a routine, it is easier to focus and pick up where you left off.
– Do take a break. I know this is difficult when you feel under pressure, but I don’t mean go on a cruise for two weeks! I always found the time to walk the dog or go for a swim or do the shopping for an hour. You can’t work 24 hours a day. If you don’t take small breaks then you’ll just spend that time sitting and starting at your computer screen anyway, so when you feel like your not making progress switch to another piece of writing or take a short break.
– Look after yourself. This relates to the last point. Make sure you eat healthily, drink plenty of water and try and do a bit of exercise. If you spend all your time sat at your desk your going to feel rubbish and that won’t help you make progress, it’ll only slow you down.
Finally, relish the fact that your research is coming together. The one satisfying thing about writing up for me was that I finally had all of my data and was starting to be able to answer some of the questions I had set out to address 4 years ago.
I hope this helps those coming towards writing up and submission. Always try and enjoy your PhD time, it is a great learning curve full of opportunities so make the most of it!