Life & Everything

Dissertation: To Write or Not To Write

November 7, 2014 | 2 comments


I’m having a love-hate relationship with graduate school. Or rather with my dissertation. To be more specific: with writing my dissertation.

PhD comics very accurately describes mine (and many other’s) experience with gradschool. A while ago, the amazing Jorge Cham made a couple of comic strips dealing with the process of writing your dissertation/thesis.


Yep, that’s me. That’s definitely me.

You’d think I would have learned by now not to procrastinate. I still remember when I did my undergraduate thesis, sitting up the last night before it was due in panic finishing the last section, trying to figure out what all my data really meant. I swore right then that if I ever went to graduate school, I wouldn’t wait until last minute to write everything.

It worked quite well when I did my masters, but that is partly because my program had two very firm deadlines: one for the finished thesis and one for the background and methods chapters that was months before the final deadline. You didn’t have a choice but to get the first half done early on (also, I only had about a year to do my masters, so you really could not afford to waste any time).

I wrote the first half on time, but still ended up working up to the last minute with the rest. Once again, I promised myself that with my PhD, I would be organized and get things down on paper asap.

I’m now three years into my PhD, and although graduation is more than a year away, I’m starting to feel the panic because I haven’t written anything on my dissertation. All those great plans of writing things early, get the massive background chapter/literature review my advisor wants me to do done in the first year, have two papers done in my third year – yeah, none of that happened. I was busy doing field work, processing hundreds and hundreds of samples in the lab, analyzing and reanalyzing (and reanalyzing) data, solving the one million unexpected issues that arose, not to mention teaching and taking classes.

In the last three years, I’ve attended numerous information sessions for undergraduates who are thinking about going to graduate school, and my main advice to them (and to those graduate students that have joined our department after me) has been: write write write. Write everything down as you do it. Don’t wait until last minute.

I clearly didn’t follow my own advice.

In my defense, I have large parts of my dissertation done. It’s just stuck inside my brain and has a hard time transitioning into written text.