5 Shortcuts to Finish Your Thesis 12 Months Sooner

“I had to fight to get my thesis approved. At some point, you just have to put your foot down and talk about graduation. Eventually, my committee gave me the green light to defend,” Amy told me at her thesis defense party.

I was a fifth year PhD student, and I had already started looking for jobs, but the thought of having “the talk” with my supervisor about graduation terrified me.

I was trapped in a vicious cycle.

I was hesitant about fully engaging in my job search because I didn’t know when I would finish my thesis.

At the same time, the subconscious fear of, “What will I do after graduation to pay the bills?” paralyzed me when I tried to work on my thesis.

Amy’s story made one point crystal clear: I couldn’t leave my thesis up to chance.

Showing up at work and generating lots of data would not guarantee a PhD degree.

After my conversation with Amy, I became laser-focused on the question, “What do I need to do in order to graduate?”

I talked to my thesis supervisor until we had clear requirements for my graduation. It took several heated, but civilized, discussions.

While it may feel intimidating to speak to your thesis supervisor about graduation, they are more likely to respect and support you if you are honest with them.

As expected, there were disagreements at my committee meeting, but this time I took a firm stance.

I remembered Amy’s advice and I made sure I was well-prepared by having answers written down for their usual objections, and having backup slides with more details.

My committee members tried to push me as hard as they could, and they all had different opinions on which direction would be best.

Thanks to Amy’s advice, I had the courage to speak up about why I thought I could graduate in a year, even as three distinguished professors glared at me in disbelief.

By the end of the meeting, we had agreed on my graduation requirements, which consisted of a series of experiments that could be realistically completed within the following year.

If I had not taken a firm stance, perhaps my thesis would have taken an extra 12 months, or maybe I would have dropped out altogether.

5 Shortcuts To Finishing Your Thesis 12 Months Sooner

My motivation soared once I realized that I had to become my own project manager.

I had one year left before my anticipated graduation date, and there was a lot to do, especially if I wanted to look for a job too.

There was no time or energy to waste.

1. Don’t be “everyone’s helper”.

I used to pride myself on responding to emails quickly and being “everyone’s helper” in the lab.

It made me feel good that my expertise was valued.

The problem was, the more I helped others with their work, the more dependent they became on me, and the more they sucked up my time and energy.

Once I started tracking my time, I realized that I spent an unreasonable number of hours responding to other people’s demands.

I was not doing my thesis a favor, and I was not doing the other people a favor, either.

If I wanted to graduate in a year, I had to make my thesis a high priority.

I was still available to help others, but I found a way to “protect” my thesis time by working in the library, not responding to emails right away, or just telling people that I was in the middle of something.

2. Map out the path to your finished thesis.

Your thesis will not write itself.

The fastest way to finish your thesis is to know what you need to get done to satisfy the requirements, and then map out a plan.

The idea of creating a map may seem intimidating for a few reasons.

First, if your graduation is far in the future, you may not know what you need to do to finish it.

Students who graduate first in their class (for example, in 4 years instead of 6 years) usually start mapping out a plan as soon they begin research.

Your plan will change (because research and life are unpredictable), but having a plan will help you gain clarity about what you need to do and by when.

The second reason it can seem intimidating to create a map, is that you may discover that you need to do more than you want to, or that you don’t have enough time to complete everything.

It is better to know sooner, rather than later, if your thesis timeline is unrealistic.

You may be able to simplify your thesis question, or get funding for another semester, but you need to create a realistic timeline.

Don’t just “hope” that somehow your thesis will be finished.

Map out a plan and discuss it with your supervisor, so you can take the right steps to get your thesis done and move on with your life.

3. Start every day fresh.

After I clarified my thesis requirements and created a timeline, I came to work every morning with the question:

“What can I do today to make progress on my thesis?”

On some days, I had to set up a new experiment, on other days I had to write parts of my thesis, but I started every day fresh.

My stress levels reduced tremendously once I let go of any guilt I felt about not getting enough done the day before.

When you let go of guilt (or fear of how long something will take), that’s when you can put all of your focus on what’s in front of you, and actually get work done.

This may sound simple, but how many students do you know who complain about how slow their writing is?

I was one of those students too, until I realized that beating myself up was not only counterproductive, but it also alienated well-meaning friends.

Starting every day fresh (without guilt about the past, or fear of the future) will not reduce your stress, but it will also open up room for the creativity you need to pull your thesis together.

4. Break the chains of your desk.

Have you ever heard the saying: “The only way to finish your thesis is to glue yourself to your chair and stay there until it is done” ?

This conventional wisdom had the following effects on me:

1) Chronic back, shoulder, neck, and wrist pain.

2) Eye strain and tension headaches.

3) Glacial (almost negligible) progress on my thesis.

The worst part was, the harder I worked, the less progress I made.

In retrospect, this cycle makes perfect sense.

How can you be creative if your whole body is tense and your eyes are strained from staring at the screen all day?

In order to have the mental stamina to write your thesis, you must take regular breaks throughout the day (at least one 10-minute break every hour).

I used to feel guilty about taking breaks until I realized that my best ideas came to me while I was outside walking.

I wasn’t the only person who experienced this phenomenon.

Several studies have shown that the creative part of your brain is activated when you are not actively focusing on a task (i.e. sitting at your desk, staring at your screen).

If you feel stuck, go for a walk and most likely you will come up with an idea to help you keep moving forward.

5. Pick your work environment carefully.

The environment where you work may not be the optimal place for you to concentrate.

Many students notice dramatic changes in their performance when they change their environments.

A simple modification, such as working in a library instead of your apartment, can double your focus.

Keep in mind that an environment that works for your friends may not be the best for your thesis writing.

Some students work best in silent environments, such as a library, while others prefer a little bit of background noise, such as a coffee shop.

If you have to work from home, some rooms may be more conducive to working than others.

Try out different work environments (consider asking friends or family about lending you a spare room for thesis writing), before deciding which environment (and which time of day) is best for you.

Bonus: Surround yourself with positive people.

Surround yourself with positive people who can support you, both academically and emotionally.

One of the most common challenges that graduate students face is that they feel isolated and lose motivation to do work.

In colleges, there are support groups organized by the teaching assistants and the residential community.

In graduate school, many students do not have any type of support.

First-year students usually start out enthusiastically but, due to lack of accountability, many of them lose track of time and fall behind on their thesis.

In contrast, students who join a support group feel that being part of a community is one of the best ways to keep themselves motivated.

Simply knowing that someone else believes in you, and celebrates each milestone with you, will motivate you to finish your thesis, and move onto an exciting career.

Are you working to finish your thesis? If so, Dora’s Writing Accelerator Bootcamp is opening soon. This Bootcamp differs from other thesis writing bootcamps in that it is not just one weekend. Instead, it trains each PhD student to write their thesis in the context of their everyday life, no matter how busy they are, even if they can only squeeze in 15 minutes a day. It is for “real” PhD students with “real” schedules, who cannot put their lives aside to write their thesis. The Bootcamp is several weeks long and by joining, you will get support until you Finish Your Thesis. Learn more about the Writing Accelerator Bootcamp here.

If you’re ready to start your transition into industry, you can apply to book a free Transition Call with our founder Isaiah Hankel, PhD or one of our Transition Specialists. Apply to book a Transition Call here.

Book a Transition Call
Get Free Job Search Content Weekly
Dora Farkas, PhD
Dora Farkas, PhD

Dora Farkas received her Ph.D. from MIT in the Department of Biological Engineering and worked for several years in the pharmaceutical industry as a Senior Scientist. Dora is a thesis and career coach and the founder of the online Finish Your Thesis Program & Community, which has helped hundreds of graduate students finish their thesis.

Similar Articles

Best Of Transition: Ph.D. Jobs & Job Search Strategies Jan 15, 2022

Best Of Transition: Ph.D. Jobs & Job Search Strategies Jan 15, 2022

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Every week, we at Cheeky Scientist scour the Internet for the best articles on topics that help in the search for the Best of Transition: PhD Job Search in the industry. Our two consultants independently search for the most informative articles in the categories of networking, CVs/resumes, interviews, transferable skills, academic blues, industry positions, and business acumen. Our consultants vote on a top article for each category and a top overall article for the week – if it’s a recent article that can help readers find and acquire PhD jobs, then we want to include it in this weekly digest.…

The 3 Components Of A Professional Job Search Profile

The 3 Components Of A Professional Job Search Profile

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

The components of your professional job search profile are important. If you want to transition into industry, you need to talk the language of industry and show that to potential referrals and employers. You probably already heard me say this, but do you know what it actually means? It means you need to know how you are portraying yourself from the very first moment you start planning your transition. Even before you start applying for jobs. If you are looking to transition into industry, but are applying to positions using an academic CV instead of an industry resume, you are…

Best Of Transition: Ph.D. Jobs & Job Search Strategies, Jan 8th, 2022

Best Of Transition: Ph.D. Jobs & Job Search Strategies, Jan 8th, 2022

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Every week, we at Cheeky Scientist scour the Internet for the best articles on topics that help in the search for the Best of Transition: PhD Job Search in the industry. Our two consultants independently search for the most informative articles in the categories of networking, CVs/resumes, interviews, transferable skills, academic blues, industry positions, and business acumen. Our consultants vote on a top article for each category and a top overall article for the week – if it’s a recent article that can help readers find and acquire PhD jobs, then we want to include it in this weekly digest.…

Best Of Transition: Ph.D. Jobs & Job Search Strategies, Jan 1st, 2022

Best Of Transition: Ph.D. Jobs & Job Search Strategies, Jan 1st, 2022

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Every week, we at Cheeky Scientist scour the Internet for the best articles on topics that help in the search for the Best of Transition: PhD Job Search in the industry. Our two consultants independently search for the most informative articles in the categories of networking, CVs/resumes, interviews, transferable skills, academic blues, industry positions, and business acumen. Our consultants vote on a top article for each category and a top overall article for the week – if it’s a recent article that can help readers find and acquire PhD jobs, then we want to include it in this weekly digest.…

How To Shorten The Hiring Funnel And Get Hired Faster

How To Shorten The Hiring Funnel And Get Hired Faster

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Finding a PhD-level industry job through the hiring funnel is hard.  After all, you are aiming for one of the 0.5% top available positions. Employers don’t just hand those positions out. At the same time, it’s likely that you are not getting hired because you are incorrectly aligning your efforts with what the hiring process looks like from the employer’s perspective. Do you have a strategy for getting hired or are you just winging it? If you are thinking that you will only have to apply to a couple of industry positions before getting an offer or that hiring managers…

Best Of Transition: Ph.D. Jobs & Job Search Strategies, December 25th, 2021

Best Of Transition: Ph.D. Jobs & Job Search Strategies, December 25th, 2021

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Every week, we at Cheeky Scientist scour the Internet for the best articles on topics that help in the search for the Best of Transition: PhD Job Search in the industry. Our two consultants independently search for the most informative articles in the categories of networking, CVs/resumes, interviews, transferable skills, academic blues, industry positions, and business acumen. Our consultants vote on a top article for each category and a top overall article for the week – if it’s a recent article that can help readers find and acquire PhD jobs, then we want to include it in this weekly digest.…

5 Job Search Time Wasters That PhDs Should Stop Doing Immediately

5 Job Search Time Wasters That PhDs Should Stop Doing Immediately

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Feeling discouraged with your job search strategy? Have you uploaded hundreds of resumes without hearing back from employers? Are you starting to think you are not cut out for an industry position? This happens to many PhDs at some point in their transition journey.  They don’t know how to execute a correct job search strategy. So they waste lots of time doing things that don’t yield any result. Then get discouraged. An industry job search is maddening. As PhDs we are never trained rigorously on how to do it in academia. Most PhDs are never trained on how to execute…

Best Of Transition: Ph.D. Jobs & Job Search Strategies, December 18th, 2021

Best Of Transition: Ph.D. Jobs & Job Search Strategies, December 18th, 2021

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Every week, we at Cheeky Scientist scour the Internet for the best articles on topics that help in the search for the Best of Transition: PhD Job Search in the industry. Our two consultants independently search for the most informative articles in the categories of networking, CVs/resumes, interviews, transferable skills, academic blues, industry positions, and business acumen. Our consultants vote on a top article for each category and a top overall article for the week – if it’s a recent article that can help readers find and acquire PhD jobs, then we want to include it in this weekly digest.…

The Competitive Advantages Every PhD Has In Industry

The Competitive Advantages Every PhD Has In Industry

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

If you have a PhD, you’re overqualified for an industry job. PhDs are lab rats and can’t understand business. You can’t get a job without industry experience. Do any of these sentences sound familiar to you? Have you been looking for an industry job unsuccessfully and have reached a point where you ask yourself if your PhD has any value whatsoever? These sentences are myths, commonly said by either academics who don’t understand anything about industry, or by other job candidates who don’t want to compete with PhDs. Hiring managers for PhD-level industry positions want the best candidates possible. After…

Top Industry Career eBooks

Complete LinkedIn Guide For PhDs

Complete LinkedIn Guide For PhDs

Isaiah Hankel

The LinkedIn tips & strategies within have helped PhDs from every background get hired into top industry careers.

20 Most Popular Industry Career Tracks For PhDs

20 Most Popular Industry Career Tracks For PhDs

Isaiah Hankel, PhD & Arunodoy Sur, PhD

Learn about the top 20 industry careers for PhDs (regardless of your academic background). In this eBook, you will gain insight into the most popular, highest-paying jobs for PhDs – all of which will allow you to do meaningful work AND get paid well for it.

Industry Resume Guide for PhDs

Industry Resume Guide for PhDs

Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Learn how to craft the perfect industry resume to attract employers. In this eBook for PhDs, you will get access to proven resume templates, learn how to structure your bullet points, and discover which keywords industry employers want to see most on PhD resumes.