View Full Version : Thesis/dissertation writing


Thales
04-15-15, 04:17 AM
How does one keep productive while writing a thesis?

I am about to start on my masters thesis and have landed myself a great PhD position starting next year, so this is something that can make or break me over a period of years. My undergrad thesis ended up being pretty decent but too much last-minute work. Also, I did that part-time along some classes, while now the thesis is the only work that's going on. My current supervisor is very hands-on, while my undergrad supervisor was not at all. This is probably a good thing, but it will definitely take some time to get used to have to show work every week.

I am in maths/CS, by the way, so writing is only a small part of the actual work compared to most other fields (timewise). Most of the time is spent on proving.

sarahsweets
04-15-15, 08:17 AM
Just so I understand....you are writing a masters thesis, have a phd job lined up and you have adhd?

TygerSan
04-15-15, 08:41 AM
Yes. It is possible to have ADHD and be academically successful. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication and external support. I'm getting really tired of all the questions of diagnosis that's happening here. I joined this forum in order to get advice on how to successfully start writing *anything*. I had screwed up 3 deadlines wrt a simple academic paper and was freaking the heck out about the mere thought of a 200 page dissertation.

The key for me was to break the larger document into smaller chunks and only focus on a chapter at a time. I don't usually write smaller papers with an outline, but for the thesis, the chapter titles became the defacto outline. I didn't write the intro or the conclusion until I had a more basic understanding of how the chapters interacted with each other (but I am in a scientific field so each of my chapters was essentially a separate mini paper tied together by the intro and conclusion so your mileage may vary).

I also had the luxury of essentially being able to single task without having to perform experiments or work in the lab while writing. Neither supervisor was thrilled with this arrangement but it was essential to my being able to finish.

Good luck and don't forget to eat and sleep. Sleep, especially.

TygerSan
04-15-15, 09:20 AM
Btw, this: http://www.addforums.com/forums/showthread.php?t=39352&highlight=Thesis&page=9

Is the thread that I started contributing to. It's long and only tangentially relevant, but we are not alone in our endeavors. (Sorry about formatting. I'm on my phone)

Thales
04-15-15, 09:35 AM
@ TygerSan: Many thanks for your reply! I know we are not alone in this, but it can be hard to find people who share the struggles. Although grad school is tough for everyone, I have noticed that some of the tips and tricks that work for my friends are counterproductive for me. I will definitely have a look at the thread you refer to. Thanks again!

Just so I understand....you are writing a masters thesis, have a phd job lined up and you have adhd?Yes. And to be honest, I am very proud of how far I have come. Not something I would have dared dream of a couple of years ago, when almost dropping out of high school, or life all together. As TygerSan says, it took a lot of hard work and external support. And yes, sometimes I have this moment of awe when I seriously wonder how the *** I ended up here.

Not surprised at this reply, though. It is a frequent one. Depending on in what context people know me, they tend to be surprised either at me doing fine in academia, or at me having ADHD. It only makes sense to the people I have worked with or who have seen me work.

VeryTired
04-15-15, 09:38 AM
I don't know if this will help you, but when I advise students who are having trouble with theses, what I often do is make a schedule for them, breaking down the whole project into small manageable sections.

I notice that the students who are most overwhelmed by the big thesis project are usually the ones who have the least ability to divide it into manageable chunks and schedule it for themselves. Advisors don't usually supply schedules for their advisees' work, but if asked, they will probably be willing to help with this. It's good to get someone more experienced to tell you how much to try to do at a time, and how long a segment of the thesis should take to complete--you may not be such a good judge of that yourself if you are doing it for the first time.

The idea is, if you only have to concentrate on a section or aspect of the project at once, you're less likely to get overwhelmed. Having a structure to guide you week by week can make it easy to arrive at the desired goal on time.

Good luck with your work! Let us know how it goes!

TygerSan
04-15-15, 09:45 AM
I guess my issue is we get that reply almost all the time outside this forum. Would really like this place to be supportive. That's why I joined. Ive spent my entire life alternately having to prove to the academic powers that be that a label does not preclude me from doing well academically and that I should be in higher level classes because boredom is not good, AND simultaneously having to put gigantic arrows pointing to my impairments in order to fight for the accommodations I needed in order to be as successful as I was. To be frank, it was always exhausting and at times extremely invalidating.

I know I'm extremely privileged. Doesn't negate the fact that I still have learnin disabilities and executive dysfunction.

Fuzzy12
04-15-15, 09:49 AM
What exactly are you struggling with? If you could give us some specific examples, maybe we can give more specific advice. I noticed that each problem had to be tackled in a different way.

Is your issue mainly with writing or also doing the work?

Like VT said, once you've got the structure down, writing becomes much, much easier. You can keep adding to the structure (as in chapter titles, subtitles, etc.) till it finally just becomes a matter of filling in the blanks.

Also, being required to meet your supervisor every week might be a bit unorthodox but can actually really help you especially if you are like me and tend to work only just before deadlines. When I notice my student struggling, I schedule weekly meetings and set out clear targets for every week.

stef
04-15-15, 10:04 AM
This is only from writing papers in college so I have no idea if this is any help at all but I could never do things "in order"; (they would always say make an outline)...

I ended up just doing the parts I was insanely interested in or the more "routine" parts, depending on my mood, make a kind of draft outline as I went along, and then would "tie them all together" in one insane hyperfocus session. this was before internet! so i am thinking, maybe you could kind of use this approach on a bigger project...?

someothertime
04-15-15, 11:28 AM
1. Throw pre-conceived finalities out the window.... this is an exercise in micro-manuscripts.....

2. Broad scope, flow.... is given separate time, and condensed into a FEW immediate and summarised areas..... ( this will float..... so revisit it....... but ONLY when there is a need.... and ALWAYS, to narrow and define a FEW "next-mini scripts" )

3. If you follow this format.... within 3 revisions of the scope ( 30min ) and 12 mini-manuscripts...... providing they are clearly written, stored..... you will have at least 80% of your end product.....

The rest is details and refinement..... ALWAYS tying in with a NEED within the LARGER peice though, CARRIED out in a certain isolation.......

Here is where having a mentor / proof reader can be so helpful.... as you'll likely be blurry.......... and in many ways....... having an outsider say THIS, THIS and THIS..... can really do wonders for ones objectiveness ;)

sarahsweets
04-16-15, 08:16 AM
I never said you cant be successful and have adhd. I never said you couldn't get your doctorate and have adhd. The op didn't say he had adhd and I wasn't sure if he did or was referring to another mental health issue so I asked.


Yes. It is possible to have ADHD and be academically successful. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication and external support. I'm getting really tired of all the questions of diagnosis that's happening here. I joined this forum in order to get advice on how to successfully start writing *anything*. I had screwed up 3 deadlines wrt a simple academic paper and was freaking the heck out about the mere thought of a 200 page dissertation.

.

Thales
04-16-15, 05:12 PM
Thanks for all your replies. I take it all in.

I never said you cant be successful and have adhd. I never said you couldn't get your doctorate and have adhd. The op didn't say he had adhd and I wasn't sure if he did or was referring to another mental health issue so I asked.I thought that this being an ADD forum would make it obvious that all threads concern AD(H)D issues regardless of what other (mental) issues we may have, but I could be wrong there.

What exactly are you struggling with? If you could give us some specific examples, maybe we can give more specific advice. I noticed that each problem had to be tackled in a different way.

Is your issue mainly with writing or also doing the work?It is mainly doing the work. In particular, I am struggling with the timing of task switching. I have a hard time recognizing what is more productive at a given point in time: persisting on some task or switching to another part of the project.

Much of my work, definitions and proofs for instance, requires a lot of contemplation. I have a tendency to switch tasks too quickly, only superficially considering something and not actually achieving anything. On the other hand, I often obsess about something when I am really stuck and it would be more productive to switch to another part of the project.

namazu
04-16-15, 10:39 PM
This was passed along to me by a mathematician I know (who doesn't have ADHD himself, but is very familiar with it, and also generally with the field-specific quirks of math):

Thoughts in no particular order:

Meeting weekly is a good thing. It doesn't mean you have to have breakthrough progress every week, but it forces you to go on the record with what you've tried and what you haven't tried yet.

Learning new definitions is hard. Developing an intuitive understanding of them can be harder. Try to find and/or ask for examples that show the definitions in action. The payoff is that good intuition makes proofs a whole lot easier.

In any proof there's usually just a small number of bottlenecks where you say "if I could show that XXX was true, everything else will work out fine." It takes intuition, and a lot of practice, to identify those bottlenecks. But once you know where they are, you can put your whole effort into solving these small (but hard) problems one at a time.


I don't know if you're doing only "pure" math or also computational work, so that might influence the specifics of your task-switching, but I hope this is of some help for at least the theoretical parts.

sarahsweets
04-17-15, 04:42 AM
Yes it is, but we have sections dedicated to many mental health disorders as well as anxiety disorders so I wanted to clarify what you were struggling with.


Thanks for all your replies. I take it all in.

I thought that this being an ADD forum would make it obvious that all threads concern AD(H)D issues regardless of what other (mental) issues we may have, but I could be wrong there.

Meteodan
04-17-15, 08:22 PM
This is only from writing papers in college so I have no idea if this is any help at all but I could never do things "in order"; (they would always say make an outline)...

I ended up just doing the parts I was insanely interested in or the more "routine" parts, depending on my mood, make a kind of draft outline as I went along, and then would "tie them all together" in one insane hyperfocus session. this was before internet! so i am thinking, maybe you could kind of use this approach on a bigger project...?

Yeah, this pretty much was my modus operandi for a long long time :lol:. (And still is what I fall back on, for the most part).

While it works sometimes, in the end I don't recommend it, because the anxiety it causes (particularly from the hyperfocus bin session) really sucks after it builds up for a while... At least it did for me.

In short, getting treatment for the underlying problem (ADHD) and then working on building new and better habits (in this case, being more structured in your writing) is what I would recommend. I'm slowly getting better at this, but it's hard even with good treatment.

stef
04-18-15, 03:20 AM
Knowing what I know now, I would probably use a more stuctured version of what I used to do( but if I were ever to write a thesis it would be something like french or english literature so i dont think my " advice" would apply too well in a more scientific field! )

Little Missy
04-18-15, 07:47 AM
I would recommend your advisor or a well respected professor guide you in your endeavour.

Meteodan
04-18-15, 09:05 AM
Knowing what I know now, I would probably use a more stuctured version of what I used to do( but if I were ever to write a thesis it would be something like french or english literature so i dont think my " advice" would apply too well in a more scientific field! )

You might be surprised how well writing advice for the humanities applies to scientific or technical writing. The best papers I've read and written are those that tell a story, and tell it well, rather than drily listing a series of methods and results.

Fuzzy12
04-19-15, 10:28 AM
Thanks for all your replies. I take it all in.

It is mainly doing the work. In particular, I am struggling with the timing of task switching. I have a hard time recognizing what is more productive at a given point in time: persisting on some task or switching to another part of the project.

Much of my work, definitions and proofs for instance, requires a lot of contemplation. I have a tendency to switch tasks too quickly, only superficially considering something and not actually achieving anything. On the other hand, I often obsess about something when I am really stuck and it would be more productive to switch to another part of the project.

I do exactly the same. Exactly the same and it has costed me months both during my PhD and in my work now. I haven't found a good answer though I am getting better at slightly more efficient task switching. I need to think about it. I don't have time now but hopefully I can write more on Tuesday or so.

Fuzzy12
04-22-15, 08:48 AM
It is mainly doing the work. In particular, I am struggling with the timing of task switching. I have a hard time recognizing what is more productive at a given point in time: persisting on some task or switching to another part of the project.

Much of my work, definitions and proofs for instance, requires a lot of contemplation. I have a tendency to switch tasks too quickly, only superficially considering something and not actually achieving anything. On the other hand, I often obsess about something when I am really stuck and it would be more productive to switch to another part of the project.

A few things you could do:

1. Make a plan or a list with all tasks that have to be done (either on a day, week, month, etc.). Set priority and deadlines for each task and use reminders and alarms. I use kanbanflow as a task planner, where I write down all my tasks and colour code them according to project or type. I also use outlook to note down all deadlines, meetings, etc and set alarms for everything. I find it useful to be able to see all my tasks in one place because it makes it a bit easier to switch between tasks.

2. Set a particular time for yourself beyond which you will stop working on a project for that day. For example, if you have been stuck for a couple of hours then force yourself to switch to doing something else.

3. If you've been stuck for a particular amount of time, make it a point to ask for help. I find it very difficult to ask for help and sometimes I've been stuck for months with a particular problem that somebody else could have solved probably in a few minutes. :doh: As long as you've given a task a fair shot, I'm sure that your supervisor will be happy to help or advice you when you are stuck.

4. In general, don't be afraid to ask your supervisor (or anyone else) for help or advice.

Meteodan
04-22-15, 09:30 PM
A few things you could do:

1. Make a plan or a list with all tasks that have to be done (either on a day, week, month, etc.). Set priority and deadlines for each task and use reminders and alarms. I use kanbanflow as a task planner, where I write down all my tasks and colour code them according to project or type. I also use outlook to note down all deadlines, meetings, etc and set alarms for everything. I find it useful to be able to see all my tasks in one place because it makes it a bit easier to switch between tasks.

2. Set a particular time for yourself beyond which you will stop working on a project for that day. For example, if you have been stuck for a couple of hours then force yourself to switch to doing something else.

3. If you've been stuck for a particular amount of time, make it a point to ask for help. I find it very difficult to ask for help and sometimes I've been stuck for months with a particular problem that somebody else could have solved probably in a few minutes. :doh: As long as you've given a task a fair shot, I'm sure that your supervisor will be happy to help or advice you when you are stuck.

4. In general, don't be afraid to ask your supervisor (or anyone else) for help or advice.

Thanks for the Kanbanflow recommendation! I've been using it for the past two days and really like it so far! Another similar program I have my eye on is Trello.