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Good thesis habits

Some students have a natural ability to create a good framework for writing their theses. Others have to work more consciously and be target-orientated. Below you can read good advice from Student counsellor Rune Mastrup Lauridsen of the Counselling Centre about how you can create a good environment for the thesis process.

Weekly schedule – thesis time and leisure time
No good comes from being a thesis student 24 hours a day, seven days a week. So it would be better if you made a weekly schedule. Perhaps you should even write your schedule down. Hang the schedule on a notice board where you can see it, and stick to the schedule. Set aside time for a shopping trip during the week, or to eat brunch somewhere with friends or family, or visit friends and family. There must always be time for that sort of thing. Remember to set a time every day for dropping tools and downing work. Or even take a thesis-day-off day!

A weekly schedule can help you to be more concentrated and involved when you work on your thesis because you know what you are supposed to be doing for the next X number of hours.

A weekly schedule can also help you to have a good conscience when you are not working on your thesis because you know you have set aside the necessary time. By keeping to a schedule you avoid your thesis from becoming a dark cloud following you all the time during the period you write your thesis.

The weekly schedule’s level of detail will be up to you. Some students like to determine the duration and number of breaks they can take during the working day. It may be helpful to start out with a strict schedule which you can gradually open up as your good habits become ingrained.

But be realistic. If you know that you need to check your mail four times a day, log on to Facebook a couple of times, or see an episode of your favourite TV programme, then set aside the time to do just that. You can combine a lunch break and a net surfing session from 12:00 – 13:00. This way you enjoy both with a good conscience.

Mind tricks and carrots
Disconnect your computer from the internet or remove the batteries from the TV remote control and put them in a drawer. Do something so that your delaying tactics don't take over. It might sound seem a bit foolish, but if that’s what you need to do so you can work for an hour rather than surf the net, then do it.

The carrot principle has been used with great success by a lot of students writing their thesis. It might sound a bit like basic donkey psychology, but it is a proven fact that we perform better if there is a reward, a “carrot” at the end of the task. Say to yourself (or write it down on a piece of paper): “When I’ve read this article, I can go to the shop and buy some chocolate” or “When I’ve written my method chapter and the analysis, I can go downtown and buy myself those pair of jeans I’ve been after.”

A reward can be a very specific and positive way of giving yourself recognition for your efforts. Because when you are writing your thesis, there is no one else but you to recognise your efforts. Remember that.

Your workplace
My final advice is about your workplace.

The majority of students like to benefit from having a place to study outside the home. This is especially true if you live in a property where you study, relax, socialise and sleep in the same room. It can be difficult to manage your activities in such an environment.

Working away from home helps you to separate leisure time and the time you need to spend on your thesis. You are not distracted by a hobby or leisure activity when you should be working and you aren’t reminded of your work when you should be enjoy your time off.

If you are not very good at keeping your leisure time and thesis time separate, then use the campus. Find a good working environment and reserve it for a week. There is a lot of demand for the reading rooms and study workspaces at the Odense campus, but you can also try to find a place to study at the university library or at the institute library.

Study in the same locale every day – soon you will begin to notice that the same people come every day and you will enjoy the familiar atmosphere. After a while you will feel quite at home and begin to say hello or chat with the other people. And the regulars will also keep an eye on your things while you stretch your legs.

When I wrote my thesis, I had a cupboard on the campus where I stored all my books. I rarely took my books home with me. It was a liberating feeling. Now and then I took a “underpants day” (an expression invented by a fellow thesis student). It was a day when I worked on my thesis at home, stretched out on the couch, without a care in the world.

Deal with problems
Good habits and good frameworks are prerequisites for a good thesis process, where you avoid a bad conscience, stress and despondency. Once you get stuck in a vicious circle it can be difficult to break free, and when that happens it is almost impossible for you to succeed in writing your thesis in time. So it is extremely important that you are aware of the stumbling blocks and the pitfalls to a good thesis process and that you actively avoid them.

You are always welcome to visit the Counselling Centre and we can have a friendly chat about thesis frameworks and habits. And we can talk about how to create the optimal conditions for a good thesis process – and the difficulties associated with starting, about uncertainties and about what to do if you get stuck during the writing process.

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