Jump-starting my thesis at dissertation boot camp

two people workingLast month I participated in the Writing and Communication Centre’s Dissertation Boot Camp. During the four days I wrote 3,000 words and learned how to design a writing routine for my dissertation that is sustainable and stress-free. 

Here are my takeaways from boot camp:

Set smart goals  

Certainly the eventual goal for grad students is to get the thesis done, but this could be a six-month project. It needs to be practiced with careful short-term planning—to break it down into monthly, weekly, and daily goals. Reaching small specific goals builds your confidence and makes it easier to track your progress. For example, instead of saying “today I will work on the thesis for three hours”, it’s better to say “today I will spend one hour explaining the first model in my methodology chapter and another hour reviewing the first three questions in my survey”. Setting my daily and hourly goals each morning motivated me to get straight into work.

Know your pace

Some people write faster than others, and some chapters are easier to write than others. It’s important to be familiar with your own pace and be realistic with your goals. At the end of each day, I reflected on my progress and adjusted the time allocation for my goals. It’s easy to start ambitiously, but I found that the impulsive motivation never lasted long. I learned to use the Pomodoro technique to monitor the actual time spent on each goal, so I can split the weekly workload across work days and maintain momentum. Another perk of the Pomodoro technique is that it sets up breaks in between writing intervals. These breaks are perfect for stretching and snacking, improving one’s capacity to focus.   

Use peer review.

At the boot camp, I learned to see writing as a two-step process. The first step is to put thoughts into words, the second to edit the words and deliver the thoughts to readers. Peer review can test whether the delivery is clear enough. Colleagues at the boot camp identified that some of my word choices and sentence structures were confusing. They advised me on alternative phrasing; I found this very useful and can now mindfully adapt my writing.

Try these strategies yourself in the next writing boot camp. It will make your thesis writing more effective and enjoyable!

Ning Dai is a PhD student in the Department of Geography studying ecological agriculture and alternative food initiatives in China.
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