How to write a thesis in record time and keep your sanity while you do it…

Keeping your sanity while writing your PhD.

Open University ROC SOC

Screen Shot 2013-01-31 at 12.56.24James Hayton, a former PhD student turned thesis-writing-guru came to give a talk on how to complete your PhD successfully- what did we learn? Stop thinking about the outcome and you will succeed! 

A few years ago, James walked out of his lab thinking of what he was going to tell his supervisor when he finally gave up his PhD.  But it was only when he started accepting his fate when he had a small epiphany and managed to turn his project around and produced a thesis which was one of the best his assessors had ever read.  So, what’s the secret to this mental state?
Just because a PhD is difficult and hard work doesn’t mean it has to be stressful or painful…

What is a PhD?

A PhD is the highest level of academic qualification you can get but it is also the bottom of the professional academic…

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Writing and nothing more


Just write, write, write.
You will edit it afterwards. It doesn’t have to be perfect right now, you can polish it later.
Get your fingers on the keyboard, on the pencil or the on the typewriter and let your thoughts guide your way.
For it is just an exercise at first, an exercise of concentration, of endurance and of creativity.
A few years ago, I have been given the chance to read the diaries of Dostoevsky and I have to say that was the perfect example of resistance. The way he is in his recollections, in those fragments of life is unpolished, heavy, sincere, humble and controversial, he is completely different from his novels. This is the way he writes for himself and not for the reader, he writes so he can later (as he always does) analyze himself, he writes as a glimpse into his own world, into the visions, fears and revelations of every day life.
So write like this at first, write like you would write if you would have a very close relationship with that topic, because indeed you will. It’s going to be the focus of your next 3 years, you will leave, breathe, dream and sleep with this topic in the back of your head, constantly meddling with your life, tearing up pieces of your yet young and developing “research consciousness”.
If there ever was a more appropriate moment to take up a hobby, it’s now. You need to be able to leave a considerable space of time between the moment you write and the one you edit your texts. I’ve taken up jogging and it’s great as it gives me a big boost of inspiration and I feel like my body is not totally useless – I’m using it for something. Whats more, I have experienced a sort of physical self-awareness, I’m realizing now how I have ignored this part of myself for such a long time.
Write in your own space and time and try to make it as personal as possible, that is be alone with your writing as much as possible. Ideas are worth sharing and spreading of course, but do this after you took the time to clarify what you want to say and how you want to do this.
Always know your weakness and try to deal with it, confront it at all costs – never run away from it. If you can’t concentrate on writing because you need to check your friends’ update on Facebook or Twitter TURN THE INTERNET OFF. If you can’t write now, go outside, take a break, go for a run, walk your dog… But always come back to where you left off.
Another very important aspect of writing is to know the difference between applause and achievement.
“You’re doing great,
you have such a great idea,
you’re on the right path”

But listen and read carefully: you’re not there yet, you haven’t achieved your goal. It’s great to keep motivated and receive honors and acclaims whenever you take a step forward but there’s a long way to go so just keep on writing.

Letter of application/motivation


Writing a strong letter of motivation is equally as important as having a strong proposal.

The main purposes of your application letter are to back-up your proposal and to give the examiners a hint of who you are, what you have done so far and where you would (possibly) want to head towards in the future. Because your past is a good predictor for your future you need to present yourself and the experience you have gained so far in a positive, optimistic light. Even though you should always be able to re-position and re-adapt yourself in every situation, your goal needs to be clearly stated and it has to be clear for everyone that you know or at least have a clue of what you would like to do. To sum it up nicely, your application letter should be able to answer the following questions:
1) Why do you want it and how can this program help you?
2) Are you passionate about this field/topic?
3) Are you well prepared academically and personally?
4) Are you able to face the challenge?
5) Will you be able to finish the program according to the deadline?

This probably sounds quite hard but it’s not. How are you supposed to write and convey this in only 300 words or so? Well, the good news is you don’t necessarily have to do this. Give them a summary of what you have done so far and try to convince how this would be the next step for you career and professional development. Be sure to mention how you came across the topic for your proposal, how this got you enthusiastic and how you are eager to fill this research gap and how you see yourself doing it for the next 3 years.
You need to get their attention and most certainly you need something to hook them up, something to draw their attention on your application, something to distinguish it from the other hundreds, possibly thousands of applications that they will be reading. Try to think of a personal experience that drew you to this field and to this specific research topic, because it’s so boring to repeat the same old boring and so obvious phrase:
“I am writing to apply for the PhD Program because I am interested in…”

Another very important aspect is editing your letter, you cannot afford to make a typing or spelling mistake. Turn on your AutoCorrect, call a friend and ask him to double check it and also ask him what is not so straight forward or where they had problems understating what you meant.

Some helpful tips: