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Dissertation survival guide from Cassandra Lord

ByCassandra Lord

Mar 14, 2017

Whether you’ve made it to the final few days of your dissertation or still have a month to go, we all need a bit of a push sometimes (and let’s face it, some procrastination). Here is a crash course survival guide to making it out of your dissertation alive.

Don’t panic. Most people who panic end up avoiding their work and procrastinating more, making it an even more overwhelming task. It’s better to simply…

Break it down. Break your dissertation into manageable chunks. Don’t think of it as an entire dissertation, just attack it in terms of chapters, or paragraphs, or anything that doesn’t make you freak out. Start with a simple heading if need be!

Take breaks. Even if the day’s work is nearly over, if you find yourself flagging, just take a 10 to 20 minute break to refresh. There’s no point sitting in front of a computer for hours if you could write the same amount in a fresh 20 minutes. Make sure this involves getting away from your work and your laptop so that it really feels like a break. Keep up with your hobbies too; take a longer break to do something you love.

Leave it alone for a while. Once you’ve written something, leave it for a few days until coming back to it. Don’t write something and immediately return to it, because you won’t notice any mistakes. Sometimes you can have an amazing revelation overnight! (Sometimes.)

Show it to someone who isn’t your supervisor. A postgrad, a parent, a friend – someone who doesn’t know much about your exact topic but who can understand it well enough to tell you if it flows and makes sense. This also helps in terms of overall style, which you might not think is necessary, but every little helps!

Keep your question nearby at all times. It doesn’t have to be your perfected dissertation title; just a sentence to keep you on the right track. Have it in red on a piece of paper in front of you; keep it at the top of all of your notes; or just do something that will make you come back to it all the time. You don’t want to stray too far down the rabbit hole when you find an interesting concept that isn’t technically related to your question.

Be accountable. Tell someone that you’re going to do 500 words today, and if you don’t do it you’ll feel more guilty than if you had only told yourself. Take this a step further and see if you can check on each other’s word count. If you don’t want to pester people, try getting an app like Habitica, which gamifies your tasks, making you lose or gain points depending on whether you achieve them.

Help a friend out. If you see they are struggling, offer to have a break with them, or offer to buy them a coffee when they finish their first chapter. Keep each other going, because this is a tough time for all of us!

Stay sociable and healthy. This one can be hard, but it’s important not to fall into a diet of takeaway and coffee. Try to keep up a fairly healthy diet, which also means making sure you don’t skip meals. Also, try to get some exercise when you can, just to keep your energy levels up and stress down. When you have one of your much-needed breaks, make sure to see someone (preferably someone who won’t just talk about work) and just have a chat. Don’t just crumble in a corner by yourself. Combine the two and arrange to go for a healthy lunch together, or even a joint gym session!

Don’t panic. This one needs to be said twice. Everything on this list essentially boils down to staying calm. Everyone has different ways of doing this, but ultimately it’s the best way to keep yourself sane and get a good dissertation mark.

Now, hurry up, stop procrastinating and write  another 500 words!



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