5 tips on how to write your PhD thesis and stay sane

By Katarzyna Z. Haza

So after years spent in the lab working on your PhD project, the time has finally come to write it all up. For many scientists this is the most daunting task throughout their studies, if not career. While some people love writing and will have it done in no time, others might struggle and find the process mentally draining. To my dissatisfaction, I fall into the second group, but here are some tips that helped me to write my thesis and maintain my sanity during this stressful time.

1. Make a thesis plan

The hardest part of thesis writing is the start. And starting without a clear plan is even harder. Make a thesis plan. Outline all the chapters with bullet-pointed list of results that each section will discuss. Gradually expanding the plan, one section at a time, will be much easier than starting with a blank page. It will also help you determine the structure of your thesis to make it into a consistent, coherent piece that reads well (which will make the examiners happy).

2. Set deadlines and stick to them!

Making a writing schedule and setting yourself deadlines (for example write chapter one in a week), will help you to stay on track and avoid all-nighters a week before your submission deadline. Completing and checking off sections of your schedule will also help to keep you motivated. Remember to account for the time to get feedback from your supervisors, and factor in extra time for things to run over.

3. Get feedback

After spending weeks on writing, reading and re-writing your chapters, it may be difficult to look at them with a critical eye. Ask your supervisors, lab mates or friends to objectively look at your writing to check for style and identify grammar and spelling errors. Review the feedback as soon as you receive it – this will help you avoid making the same mistakes in the next chapters.

4. Stay focused

Avoid procrastination by eliminating distractions. Switch off the internet on your phone, write in a clean, uncluttered space where you feel comfortable. If you struggle to focus for longer periods of time, use the Pomodoro technique: 25 minutes of writing followed by 5/10 min break, then repeat. Whether you’re a morning lark or a night owl, listen to your body to identify the most productive time of the day (or night) and write then.

5. Take a break

Yes, you read it correctly. Writing your thesis is an exhausting task and it is important to look after yourself. Take a time off, go for a walk, exercise, drink plenty of water. Do whatever works for you. And, as long as you stick to your schedule, don’t feel guilty for it!

About me:

I am a final year PhD student at the University of Leeds, working on modulation of function of a key protein involved in many different cancers – Ras. I am using novel molecular recognition tools, the Affimer reagents, which are non-immunoglobulin based scaffold proteins.

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