Surviving thesis submission

Submitting a thesis is a strange thing. You start eating cereal for dinner, laughing at code and generally getting annoyed with people who breathe too loudly in your presence. Most importantly, you have to keep it together. I was very surprised to realise that many colleagues do not realise that comments such as “you look like sh*t” and “how many pages have you written?” are not really what you need to hear.


I like to think that I survived my thesis write-up with some semblance of sanity, though my partner might attest otherwise. But anyway, for what it is worth, here is my survival manual.

1. Meetings

Good supervision is the backbone of a good thesis. Make sure you see your supervisors when you need them.Try to meet as much as possible 3-1 month before submitting. But when you get close to submission, take a step back and focus on writing and ask your supervisors to read your papers instead of meeting with you. Too much feedback too late can be really tough to deal with, so if you know that your supervisor is busy and takes time to read things (I have yet to meet one that isn’t busy), make sure to give them deadlines. For instance, say that a co-author would like to read your manuscript on day x and that you need feedback before then.

2. Wine

For people who do not drink, ignore this. But generally one to two glasses are very good for writing, as they help you turn off your self-criticism and simply focus on getting everything on paper. Too much, needless to say, is bad. Edit sobre.


3. Happy music

Sometimes, writing up can be really tough. There’s a ton of feedback, and ton of analyses to re-do, and everyone keeps telling you you look like sh*t. Asking random people for hugs is often not an option, so find some sort of music that makes you happy and motivates you. I got really into banghra and heavy metal, one for when I needed to feel happy, the other for when I was very frustrated. Pandora has loads of cool music channels you can choose, I highly recommend it.

4. Quit coffee

I ran out of coffee one day and was forced to go without, and discovered that my productivity and alertness actually went up. I would not have believed this if I hadn’t tried it, but you really do get a comedown from a caffeine high. I was blaming stress for my exhaustion, but it was actually caffeine. Also you sleep so much better.

5. Sleep well

The temptation is to simply work until 3 am and then get up at 6 am and work some more, but realistically, it is not sustainable. You burn out and then waste precious working time recovering from the burnout. If you work best at night, stay up until 3 am, but then wake up at 11. If you work best at 6am, then go to bed at 10pm. Just do what works best for you, and ignore people who think you are a slacker for walking into the office around midday. They don’t know what goes on behind the scenes.

Also insomnia can be a product of stress, and if you find you can’t sleep, get some sleeping tablets. Really. Sleep is your new best friend.

6. Take time off

This is tough when you are really into the thick if it, but just take breaks. Even 30 mins to walk around campus or catch up with a friend over coffee. Keep them short and regular, and you will generally be much more productive, and fitter (seen as you often stop exercising right before submitting your thesis, walking will only help)

7. Look after yourself

This is a no brainer, but I have to insist. Eat well, try and exercise as much as possible given the circumstances, and get as many hugs as possible. If you are a crier, just cry, let the frustration out and get on with it.

Ultimately, writing a thesis is really exciting, even if it is crazy tough. And looking back you can say to yourself, “I wrote a book”. And that’s pretty cool, even if no one reads it from cover to cover.


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