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A number of graduate (Masters and doctoral) and undergraduate students have reached out to me asking the question:

"how can I get started with my thesis?"

I promised that this evening I would do a thread and a blog post so they could refer to them.

Here it goes.
As I was pondering this blog post (one that I've been wanting to write for a long time), I started thinking about what the baseline should be, both for this blog post/Twitter thread & for my book(s) I am writing 2 books at the same time in 2 different languages on these topics.
I am going to write this thread from the viewpoint of someone who has supervised theses and dissertations, and in the future I'll be writing one for advisors.

I'll start from the baseline that you (student/doctoral candidate) have already done everything except the thesis.
I will start by pointing you to useful resources and resource-people:

1) Obviously, Dr. Inger Mewburn, The Thesis Whisperer @thesiswhisperer -… she offers a wealth of resources on how to write the thesis for students AND for supervisors.
2) Dr. Patricia (Pat) Thomson @ThomsonPat… who has written books on how to supervise PhD students, and a wealth of other volumes on these topics.

3) Dr. @evalantsoght who published The A to Z of the PhD trajectory… fantastic book
4) Dr. Petra Boynton (@DrPetra) who wrote The Research Companion as a guide for researchers…

5) Dr. Patrick @PJDunleavy Dunleavy who wrote "Authoring a PhD"… a book I refer to on a regular basis when talking with my own PhD students.
6) Obviously, my own set of Reading Notes of books I've read on how to do a PhD.

I already have my own PhD, I don't need any of these books.

I bought over a dozen volumes with my own money so that I could improve and become a better thesis advisor, that's why I did it.
You can access all my reading notes here…

Having provided all these resources, I should warn you that I'm writing from my Mom's house in Leon, and therefore I am in no way, shape or form close by any of my books on "how to do a PhD thesis".

I am going to do this thread based on my recollection of books I've read.

I'm also assuming you've discussed with your PhD committee and/or your thesis advisor(s) the scope of your work…

There's an intermediate step between PhD comprehensives and thesis.
The way I did my PhD was slightly complicated. I did comprehensive exams (written questions and oral defense) and THEN I defended a dissertation proposal. The work I did (review of the literature, mostly, and preliminary fieldwork) basically set the stage for my PhD dissertation.
Because I did my PhD in Canada and I've supervised students there and in Mexico, I am most familiar with those processes. I WAS going to do my PhD in England and I'm aware that many programs do not have qualifying/comprehensive exams nor coursework and thus go direct to thesis.
The reading (and systematizing) I did for my comps helped me with my dissertation, yes, but my comprehensive exams were much broader. So after I passed comprehensives, I still had to go and delve into different sets of literature because I cross disciplinary boundaries.
I started writing my PhD dissertation in earnest when I returned from my fieldwork.

My PhD students started writing as soon as they returned from fieldwork (because they did a 3 paper dissertation).

The only one of my PhD students who did a book manuscript ALSO started...
... writing AFTER he had done fieldwork.

Because my students with 3 papers did fieldwork in 3 different places, what I recommended was to start writing the results sections of all three papers (and the methods and data sections). THEN I asked them to write each paper separately
Another assumption I'm making:

* you and your advisory committee already applied backcasting techniques and planned your thesis or dissertation writing timeline…

THIS is fundamental. The number of months you have to write the full draft of the thesis...
... COMFORTABLY planned for. This is fundamental, even more so in the context of pandemics and social unrest.

There will be things that will distract you, de-stabilize you emotionally and require you to process them. Make space (mental) and time for processing these emotions.
Several institutions have automatically added one year of funding for graduate students, but this isn't universal. So I think that we ought to be realistic and consider the worst case scenario (potential derailing, no additional funding) and plan for this.

I'm always a worrier.
This is the Gantt Chart for one of my PhD students BEFORE the pandemic occurred.

Everything was going well.
And then the pandemic happened.

To be perfectly honest, I have not felt emotionally stable until about now-ish, which is the end of May 2020 or beginning of June 2020.

I would expect my PhD students might feel emotionally de-stabilized, and thus, we build some room for it.
Note that in my edits to their Gantt Chart, I inserted "pivoting to new research strategy and data collection". Doing fieldwork during a pandemic of this sort is risky and I would consider it dangerous…

Doing this pivoting requires time to think, etc.
The one thing that I don't know we say frequently, as researchers, is that EVERYTHING EVOLVES.

I have changed my priors around many things.

Fieldwork, new reading, delving into other literatures changes the way I think. My writing evolves, my thinking does too.

An example:
I've done fieldwork in Paris many times over the years, but it wasn't until last year that I lived there for a semester that I realized a lot of things that reading the literature didn't reveal. Conducting interviews in French, reading French scholarship really changed how...
... I think.

I say this because, if you are thinking that you've collected all the literature, data, etc. and now you're just going to sit down and write the thesis and it's going to feel like a linear process, you're deluding yourself.

As you write, you're going to realize new insights, develop new ideas. Refine your argument. Redraft text. Revise it.

And then you're going to find out that the final abstract, introduction and conclusion of your dissertation aren't going to be exactly the ones you first...
... thought they would.

Now, on to the other key question that another PhD student asked me:


I think I get this question more the more often students ask it.

Here's how I think of the process, and how I wrote mine and how I tell my...
... students to write their theses.

1) Write a suggested table of contents.

I don't think I've written a blog post on how to develop suggested tables of contents for theses or books, but those two are on my mind. Until I write those posts, here's what I recommend you do:
Develop a draft outline of your thesis.

The one I'd suggest, off the top of my head, and based on my Dissertation Analytical Table (DAT) and on my Dissertation Two Pager (DTP) devices

1. Introduction
2. Literature Review
3. Paper 1
4. Paper 2
5. Paper 3.
6. Concluding chapter
My posts:

- Introductory chapters…

- Dissertation Analytical Table (DAT)…

- Dissertation Two Pager (DTP)…

Now, you're probably asking, "how to I budget time for each chapter on a daily, monthly, weekly...
... basis"?

Fear not. What I tell my own students is to

(a) break down their chapters and papers into smaller pieces…

(b) write memorandums that develop each one of these small pieces…

(c) make it a daily goal to work on ONE item
Maximum 2-3 items.

Studying for a degree is overwhelming enough, so you don't need to add more stress to your life (we're in the midst of a global pandemic, living at home, there is social unrest and worry, there's more than enough worry in our lives)

I always recommend that
... my students develop a structured working routine. Obviously, current conditions require a lot of flexibility and transitioning and that's where the conversation with professors and supervisors is important (and the empathy and kindness of those advisors is FUNDAMENTAL)
This was my structured routine before the pandemic…

I find that for me, structure and routine help.


It works for me, you do you, as you were.
TO RECAP: How to start writing a thesis (I assume you have been in conversations with your supervisory committee):

1) Write a draft of your thesis outline/table of contents.
2) Apply backcasting techniques from the date you need to submit the thesis and plan backwards.
3) Build a Gantt Chart with enough buffers to account for everything that is going on right now (potential factors that may derail your progress)
4) From your Gantt Chart, break down the tasks that you need to do and realistically can do, and schedule those throughout weeks/days.
5) Account for the time that it's going to take you to assemble the full dissertation and make it entirely coherent (aka making sure that The Red Thread/Throughline is there).…

Good luck!

</end thread>
I forgot step 4.5 which I suppose is the most important:

- Break down each chapter in smaller pieces
- Write memos that fulfill the goals established in each chapter (e.g. "section on water governance in Latin America", "methods section for paper 3")
- Assemble memorandums...
... until you develop each one of the chapters.

I'm going to see if I can do the "thesis" version of the diagram that shows how I backcast an R&R…

Ok, NOW I AM done with the thread.

</end thread>
Two addenda to my thread:

1) I had already written a blog post on thesis structure, which you can find here…

2) I forgot to link to Dr. @ThomsonPat blog posts on the thesis writing process:…

I'm writing the blog post right now.
NEW BLOG POST - Writing the dissertation (thesis) II: Getting started and progress/project planning…

This post is a MUCH MORE EXPANDED VERSION of this Twitter thread, so I recommend you refer to the blog post rather than the thread.
Missing some Tweet in this thread? You can try to force a refresh.

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