The Writing of a Thesis: Musings of a Confused Grad Student

“The time has come, the Walrus said. To talk of many things. Of shoes and ships and sealing wax. Of cabbages and kings.” And like Lewis Carroll’s Walrus, I too have many things to talk (or write) about and sadly my thoughts are just as scattered.

And thus begins my final series for the GradLife blog, my journey through the writing of my PhD thesis. It’s only the beginning but I have the feeling there will be highs and lows and stress galore. So how do I start? That is the foremost question on my mind with no really good answer. I have an overall idea of what I need to include. My data chapters are more or less complete, as in I’ve accrued 90% of the data I want to include, though they are not yet written and the figures aren’t all made. I know the headlines of the introduction, the obvious sections I’ll have to write. Materials and Methods all lie in the 7 lab notebooks piled on my desk. Discussion is a vague cloud in my head, with ideas floating in and out, but I have some ideas. So the elements are there. But how to sit down and transcribe it? Where should I start?

“Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start”. Well, Julie Andrews has never steered me wrong in the past but it doesn’t seem as easy as “A, B, C”. As scientists, we aren’t trained to be wonderful writers. Watson and Crick weren’t known for their elegant turn of phrase. With the exception of truly horrible puns in paper titles (which I love!), scientific writing is clear, concise and specific. For the past 6 years, I have been trained to describe my work in as briefly but completely as possible, languishing in a world of strict page, word or even character limits. Now faced with the longest document I will likely ever have to write, I find my thoughts wandering, unable to grasp the beginning of the tread that will lead me out of this labyrinth. The task before me seems Herculean, too large to think about as a whole. Everyone tells me I need to break it up, work on one section at a time and in the end it will all come together. This is excellent advice, except for the fact I keep hopping from one section to another, unable to focus on one thing for any length of time. This is not a good start. I need to come up with a strict plan to follow and then stick to it. And then, one day, one section at a time it’ll be finished.

So, a little lost and confused, I’m taking my first steps down this path. Hopefully, I won’t get too lost in my words. If you have any advice for me, let me know!

Banner Photo by cuilei2017 // pixabay

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