A brief look back on thesis writing

Aug 21 2013 Published by under Late-stage PhD student

Last week, I handed my thesis in to my readers. So before I get back to my snake training, I thought I'd share a few observations on the whole process that may be helpful for those of you about to embark on this journey.

1. Check your university's thesis format. They get picky about page numbering and font sizes and where figures/tables/illustrations can go. There's also the adjusted 1.5" left margin to account for the gutter area (oopsy poopsy). Have all these set beforehand, especially if you plan on embedding figures and tables in the text. Adjusting the format after the fact will invariably bump your figures and tables and texts all over the place.

2. Of all the things I thought would hurt from sitting all day everyday, hips never occurred to me. I imagine this is what having creaky, old door hinges for joints would feel like. I knew I should have kept up with my yoga.

3. If you plan on using Word to write your thesis: bookmarks are your friends. I used them to jump back and forth between sections of my thesis when the length got too unwieldy for simple scrolling up and down. (Still dreaming of a word processor that let's you scroll through a document horizontally rather than vertically.)

Also, you know all those periods in the table of contents? If you're about to manually type all of those, let me stop you right there. Use tabs with leaders and the decimal alignment if you want it all aligned to the right side of your page. Or you can have Word automatically generate one...if you have that much faith in Word.

4. If you live near your parents, milk that. I was able to convince them to bring me home-cooked meals. I'm kidding, I didn't ask. They offered, and it was awesome of them.

5. Half of my committee wanted my thesis as a pdf, and the other half wanted a hard copy. I had the hard copies spiral-bound at FedEx/Kinko's (or whatever they're called these days) where apparently, there's a limit to the size of a document they can have bound. They told me they would try to bind my thesis anyway. If you do this, insist that they call you if they encounter any problems. The person handling my order messed up the hole-punching on ~20 pages and ended up using photocopied replacements. If they had called to inform me of this goof up, I would have gladly reprinted those pages.

6. I didn't touch my computer or thesis for 48 hours after turning it over to my committee. I won't lie, there was quite a bit of separation anxiety.

Alright, bring on the serpent!

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Any advice for a Ph.D. student contemplating a leave of absence?

May 31 2013 Published by under Late-stage PhD student

Folks, I have a friend who just finished her first year of grad school and is wondering whether she rushed into this whole Ph.D. business (sound familiar?). Now she wants to take a leave of absence to get some "real world experience" before committing the next 5-6 years to finishing her Ph.D. I counseled her as best I could and told her to consider several things: 1) her department's policy wrt to taking a leave of absence, 2) how long of a leave did she want to take and whether "real world experience" jobs would hire her for that length of time, and 3) whether to do it before or after finishing her qualifying exam.


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Never Touch a Grad Student's Radio

Apr 11 2013 Published by under Late-stage PhD student

I know. The title should probably say Winamp Pandora or Spotify or something a little bit more current. But, this was a mistake I made years ago during my pregrad school days when as a tech I had anointed myself lab DJ. I walked around like I owned the place--playing my CDs (remember those?) and changing the radio station at whim with so little as a peep of protestation from other lab members. Since no one ever said anything--at least, not to my face--I just assumed people were cool with my music choices.

On this particular occasion, the offending song was a cover of Roxette's Listen to your Heart...so, I don't think you can really blame me for changing the station.


No, but this song was different, you see, because as soon as I touched the dial I heard this:

""Excuuuuuse me. Were you raised in a barn? I was listening to that."

I froze. Things got real quiet in the lab. I don't think I had ever been admonished like that in my life. Caught somewhere between the urge to start bah-ing like a sheep and actually feeling sheepish, I mumbled through an apology and told the grad student that I didn't really appreciate the dig at how my parents raised me. Then, I backed out of the room mad tentatively.

Anyway, moral of the story: Not everyone has impeccable tast Don't be an inconsiderate jerk. And have a democratic process in place for electing the lab DJ.

4 responses so far