How’s that thesis going?

Posted by barb on Jan 13, 2008 in Random Thoughts, Thesis/Grad Life |

Most people know that I’m writing my PhD thesis now, so I frequently get asked how it’s going. I always have to gauge how to answer that question.

The truth? “It’s going very badly, I have unhelpful and unresponsive advisors, I’m behind on the one deadline they finally gave me, and I have no idea what I’m actually going to do with the piles of data that I have. Thanks for asking.” Most people don’t want to know the truth.

A lie? “It’s going great. I have two chapters in really good shape and a third one on it’s way.” Okay, other than the “great” part, that’s not really a lie. Honestly, I think this is the answer I give most people who don’t know me very well. I have a bad feeling that this is what my advisors thing.

Something in-between? “Well, I’ve been struggling here and there, and I’m working on it nearly every waking moment, but it seems to be coming along.” I suppose this one isn’t actually a lie either.

The problem is that when I’m asked this question, I really just want to break down crying. Even with an end in site (ostensibly 5 months, but I have a feeling that it’s going to slip to the summer), I just feel completely overwhelmed. I really am working nearly every waking moment on this thing, whether it’s active writing or compiling data for tables or putting together figures that I may or may not want to use.

I do have one chapter pretty much done (with one more round of comments from my advisors expected on Wednesday). I have the first draft of another chapter in my advisors’ hands right now, and another one is supposed to have been finished last week. That last one is based on a paper, so it shouldn’t be too hard to write, but I’ve been sick since Wednesday, and my head has not been up to any complex thinking, like trying to write.

The problem is that I have at least 3 more chapters to write – a couple on results, some kind of a conclusion and looking to the future, and the introduction. These are the hardest chapters, and I need to actually play more with my data before I know what I can even say in my results.

I seem to be on a 2-week cycle where I work really hard for 2 weeks, and then break down for a day. Fortunately, I have Andrew to see me through my breakdowns. He patiently lets me cry and scream and pout, and then makes me take a break from my thesis, either at the movies or playing “Lego Star Wars”.

I often wonder what my experience would have been like with advisors who actually wanted to chat with me about my research, and who would meet with me more than every 2-3 months. Would I feel less bitter about the process of science? Would I be excited to see what my data would tell us? Would I actually apply to a couple of post-doctoral research positions? Would this final writing push be just a little less stressful?

The truth is that this is the hand I was dealt. I decided to finish this thesis, so I need to just shut up and do it.

How’s the thesis going?

It’s coming along.

[cross-posted at Galaxy Girl]

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