Can't seem to finish your thesis?
July 14, 2002 5:04 AM   Subscribe

Can't seem to finish your thesis? Then this site may be for you. It's a support group for those of us who just can't seem to write up and finish off that Ph.D./Masters degree. It'll either give you hope and motivation or it'll make you more complacent. "Well, I guess I'm not the only one who's taking a long time; I won't stress out about it anymore".
posted by percine (15 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I wish I had this when I was writing the final version of my Ph.D. I finished mine at Manchester University in 1982, after a three year course in Government(political philosophy and theory)and the year it took to gain my Master's. Another five years followed. It was lonely and harrowing, to say the least, although the level of support there(supervisor, faculty and the magnificent John Rylands library)couldn't be bettered.

The evaluation process and the viva(the oral exam)were far easier to bear than the actual writing. So this web site would have helped a bit. In the British academic system(unlike the Portuguese and French, for instance) theses have to have an original theme and be based on original research. So the main problem is loneliness. After about six months, even your specialist supervisor has no idea of what you're studying. There's no one to talk to. No one is the slightest bit interested. This is ever so discouraging.

So you feel a freak, grow unwanted facial hair, sever your most precious friendships and relationships...and just have to, as the Brits quite rightly say, get on with it. It's no fun, though it amps you up like no drug on earth. (So it's a big let-down - a sense of emptiness - when you're awarded your doctorate, after all the corrections and criticisms, and have no idea what to do next).

Still, I can't complain. This website is helpful, percine, but I don't think it changes much. It's been this lonely way for centuries now and no amount of interaction or support can do much more than delay the writing - getting it down -work you've been putting off for months on end...

There is no easy way out, fortunately ;)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 6:44 AM on July 14, 2002

as Cunard Steamship motto has it: Getting There Is Half the Fun.
posted by Postroad at 6:52 AM on July 14, 2002

So it's a big let-down - a sense of emptiness - when you're awarded your doctorate, after all the corrections and criticisms, and have no idea what to do next

I didn't have much trouble finishing my Ph. D. dissertation but the post-completion emotional crash was totally unexpected. I figured I'd be flying high after achieving a presumed high level of accomplishment in my field (chemistry) but instead, almost immediately, I was overwhelmed by a crushing sense of inadequacy and "imposter" syndrome. Luckily I had a post-doc position and some grant funding lined up already or I would have been catapulted into my backup career at the K-mart garden center...
posted by plaino at 9:05 AM on July 14, 2002 [1 favorite]

a crushing sense of inadequacy and "imposter" syndrome

is right. I now wish I'd taken a year off, somewhere along the line. As it is was with me - standard practice in Portugal - you more or less start going to school at 5, keep cracking for twenty plus years until you've got your Ph.D and then go straight to teaching. It's as if you've never actually lived outside school. And that thesis seems like the most important thing you'll ever do and only you know (but only after you've done it...) it's not that great.

Teaching at university is like going back to school - there's no time any more. I eventually gave up after six years as an assistant professor - even though I had tenure - after experiencing two year-long(but separate) bouts of freedom as a visiting fellow at Oxford. But even "post-docs" with the help of two of the most brilliant political philosophers (Derek Parfit, at All Souls' and Joseph Raz at Balliol) aren't a fraction of the fun. You've already done your Ph.D; your long work. Now you're just messing about, as an uncertain and vaguely unequal sort of peer. That was enough - that awful casualness - to make me give it up for good, to try to become a writer.

All these years after I realize that a doctorate, in its most most important sense, is only the first big thing one writes. The being able to think it out before writing is just the result of having so much time on one's hands. I mean...four or more years!

This never happen again, whatever you do. I just wish I could go back and do it again. Even paying the certain price of feeling like an imposter - and an inadequate one at that. At least, while one was writing the damn thing, there was the illusion that it was worthwhile.

Not after; not really - as you so well describe, plaino. I kept remembering the not wholly unrelated "Better to have loved and have lost..."
posted by MiguelCardoso at 9:53 AM on July 14, 2002 [1 favorite]

Hey, a support group! I finished my qualifiers back in January and have been 'coming up with a topic' ever since, but that mainly has been wasting time in any fashion I can. I just can't seem to get myself to actually get out there and do the work. I thought I was the only one.
Thanks for the post percine. I don't feel like such a bad person anymore, and actually found a little motivation.
posted by dig_duggler at 10:43 AM on July 14, 2002

college sounds cool and stuff
posted by folktrash at 11:02 AM on July 14, 2002

what folktrash said. I still can't get round to even start writing my poxy thesis, I prefer going out for a few bevvies la.
posted by johnnyboy at 11:10 AM on July 14, 2002

Actually, I finished my master's thesis by hiding from the internet. It almost found me though.

posted by iceberg273 at 11:19 AM on July 14, 2002

Heh, as someone in the final, convulsive throes of writing a master's thesis, it's hard not to take this post as some kind of divine message.
Of course, it would make more sense for the message to be "stop wasting your time hanging around on the Internet and get back to writing," rather than "ooh! here's a cool site that will painlessly suck away still more of your precious time." But they say God's ways are mysterious, so who am I to argue?
posted by PlinAgin at 11:26 AM on July 14, 2002

I am familiar with "gett my butt in the chair" pacts for various projects, so I appreciate this site.

I finished my master's thesis by hiding from the internet.

I think these people would have an easier time of things if they abandoned that board. The main board is full of messages about department/academic "politics" not necessarily stopping people from writing.

No one seems to be talking about their subject matter or argument. If I was really blocked, I would think that would be the kind of support I would want. And you can't always get that from your advisors.

It's nice to see so many PhD's on MeFi.

PS: Good luck PlinAgin!
posted by rschram at 11:30 AM on July 14, 2002 [1 favorite]

I feel everyone's pain. I am starting my master's thesis to finally earn my Masters of Architecture. I don't know what I would do for a Ph.D. - probably just build a damn building, or something way off the wall like integrated database for design. But all I have to do is a master's thesis right now. Whew.

The problem is, is that I don't have a topic yet; kinda hard to tackle a thesis without a topic, right? At least in architecture it is a bit of writing in the front end, and then a whole lotta design in the middle, and crazy amounts of models and presentation in the end. Intertwine that with daily critiques, lectures, topic defense [or, as we like to call it, why the hell did you pick that?!], and finally exhaustion. Fortunately, it is only a year long, so it really is pale by comparison to what Miguel & Co. are discussing. Except we don't have the loneliness - we have to defend our positions all the time, and all of the students are constantly cross-pollinating ideas in the studio. If anything, it is too much contact and not enough reflection time for us distill the important ideas and get rid of all the rubbish.
posted by plemeljr at 11:42 AM on July 14, 2002

WOW. I'm starting a Master's program this fall (chemistry) with a thesis looming due at the end. I'm bookmarking this link, and I read each of your comments carefully. I have taken off three years of school, so I'm worried to death about it all...but everyone's quite supportive. Now I'll have this little gem for support, too. Thanks percine!
posted by rio at 12:11 PM on July 14, 2002

Actually, I finished my master's thesis by hiding from the internet. It almost found me though.

Some mornings i crawl under my desk and pull the ethernet cable out of the back of my box, in the hope that i'll stay focused and finish off my current chapter. With any luck, i'll graduate in October January.
posted by astirling at 4:04 AM on July 16, 2002

::sigh:: i'm procrastinating chapter 6 by being here...
posted by zegooober at 9:02 AM on July 16, 2002

I would be willing to swear I wouldn't have been able to finish my thesis if, at the time, the Internet had been available. I figure you can do that, you can do anything. God's speed to you brave ones! :)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 9:18 AM on July 16, 2002

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