Thesis strategies

I’ve completely revised my thesis strategy. Before I had hoped to make incremental progress: 2-4 solid pages a day of material I was happy with and would constitute a solid draft. Now I’m just wholesale copying chunks from papers I’ve written in the hopes of getting a handle on what holes I need to fill and how best to organize everything. I started feeling like writing my thesis was a zero-sum game where the payoff is my ability to think; every lemma I finalized in the text took away one potential lemma that I could prove about new and exciting problems. The new method means more tedious proofreading and checking later, but at least I have a sense of the big picture. Of course, now my pages vs. time graph is going to look strictly concave instead of linear, so as long as I stop thinking Δpages = progress it should all work out.

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0 thoughts on “Thesis strategies

  1. What is your strategy regarding quality? There are a tiny fraction of theses that go on to become books, or win “Best Thesis of the Year From Some Prestigious Organization” awards. If you think you have a shot at such a thing and want it, then make your thesis very very good.

    If not, make it the absolute minimal document which your committee will sign off on. I’m serious. Time you spend making your thesis any better than that is time you are neither furthering your research career nor having fun. In general, if you have anything important to say, it’s going to be in published papers anyways, which is my reason for not reading your thesis, which in turn is your reason for just barely writing it. The best possible thing is to literally take a bunch of papers, change the titles of the papers to chapter names, and write a 3 page intro and conclusion, preferably without even harmonizing notation. Of course, you’d have to be quite lucky for your committee to accept such a thing, but it’s by no means unheard of.

  2. I really want my thesis to be a document that someone later down the line might want to read to get a solid sense of what this model (the arbitrarily varying channel) for robust communication is. The subproblem on which I have been working has been semi-dormant for a while, and I think one thing that is coming out of my work is a recontextualization of the model and how it can be applied to new communication models/systems. So from a philosophical point of view I want to make it as good as possible.

    To me, at least, the effort is worth it, if for no other reason than to say “I wrote this thing, and it’s a coherent if incomplete look at a set of problems that are interesting and relevant.”

  3. For me, the tough line to draw was how “self-contained” the dissertation should be. There’s no particularly good textbook covering my sub-field yet, so the best way to learn it is still to read a bunch of conference papers with different terminology, etc. I had to resist the urge to make my dissertation that textbook, as it would have delayed my graduation. Perhaps that’s a good way to approach the problem; do the best you can without delaying your graduation too much. I agree that even if very few people actually read the document, spending time trying to make the coherent and interesting is worthwhile.

  4. “If not, make it the absolute minimal document which your committee will sign off on. I’m serious. Time you spend making your thesis any better than that is time you are neither furthering your research career nor having fun”

    I’m taking this advice to heart. I’m at least three years away from even beginning to write, but I’m already strategizing ways to get out of here as quickly as bloody possible. I suppose it’s different in different fields – although I’m pretty sure the measurement I’m working on is ground-breaking in psychology, I have no sense that this research, at this phase, will be something that people refer back to. If nothing else, I’m hoping to revise and improve the scale when I have some more leeway post-graduation.

  5. “To me, at least, the effort is worth it, if for no other reason than to say ‘I wrote this thing, and it’s a coherent if incomplete look at a set of problems that are interesting and relevant.'”

    Although that’s pretty tempting too.

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