Get your PhD thesis beach ready

Prepping for the beach requires planning, effort and time management – and so does writing a PhD thesis. John Sinclair offers advice for summer days and doctoral nights

John Sinclair's avatar
17 Jun 2024
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Two sun loungers sit on white sand, shaded by a yellow beach umbrella
image credit: iStock/PondShots.

Created in partnership with

Created in partnership with

Colorado State University Global

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Writing a PhD thesis can often feel like preparing for an ultimate beach day. Just as you plan your trip, pack your towels and sunblock, and ensure you have everything you need for a perfect day by the sea, PhD candidates must organise their research, structure their ideas and manage their time effectively to produce a well-organised and impactful thesis.

Packing your beach bag: initial planning and time management

The first step in getting ready for the beach is packing your beach bag with all the essentials. Similarly, effective time management and planning are crucial in the preliminary stages of your PhD journey. Begin by breaking down your thesis into manageable sections and setting achievable deadlines for each part. This way, you have a clear road map, preventing you from feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of the task.

Also, know yourself as a writer and creator. The doctoral journey differs from bachelor’s and master’s, as we start to create our own theories. Just as swimmers at the beach need to know their strengths and limitations to be safe, we also must know ourselves as writers so we can manage our time. 

Creating a detailed timeline for your research and writing phases is akin to creating a packing list for your beach day. Allocate specific time blocks for literature review, data collection, analysis and writing. Regularly revisit and adjust your schedule as needed, much like you would adjust your plans based on weather conditions and beach activities.

Setting up your beach umbrella: structuring your thesis

Once your beach bag is packed, it is time to set up your beach umbrella. Structuring your thesis effectively is essential for creating a coherent flow of ideas, and it always helps to begin with the planning process, outlining the main chapters: introduction, literature review, methodology, results, discussion and conclusion. Each chapter should have a clear purpose and contribute to the overall narrative of your research.

The introduction serves as the opening to your beach day, inviting readers into your research landscape.  We all enjoy the sun as it glistens on the ocean, inviting us to dive in. The introduction should do the same for the readers – providing an overview of your research topic, objectives and significance. The literature review is akin to setting up your beach towel and laying out the foundation, demonstrating understanding of the existing knowledge and identifying gaps that your research will address.

The methodology section is the blueprint of your beach set-up, detailing the tools, techniques and processes you used to gather and analyse data. The results section presents the highlights of your beach day, displaying the data and findings in a clear and organised manner – this is where we want to show that we planned well, checking our beach checklist for quality. 

The discussion chapter is where you interpret your findings, much like reflecting on the best moments of your beach day, and the conclusion ties everything together, summarising the key insights and implications of your research (ideally finishing without a sunburn).

Enjoying the sun: writing and revising

Once your beach umbrella is set up and your towel in place, it’s time to sit back and relax – unlike writing a PhD thesis, when it’s important to stay on top of the work, consistently writing and revising. 

Writing a PhD thesis is not a one-time effort but an ongoing process, requiring regular attention and care.  We teach methods that can help with this in our Writing Center at CSU Global.

Dedicate specific time each day or week to writing, just as you set aside time to apply sunscreen and stay hydrated at the beach. Set achievable writing goals, such as completing a certain number of words or pages each session. This incremental approach helps keep momentum and prevents procrastination.

Revising and refining your work is like adjusting your beach set-up throughout the day. Regularly review your writing for clarity, coherence and logical flow – making sure that the plan you originally created is still on point. If there are changes, you are in control of where they are going. If, at the beach, the wind picks up and the sky clouds over, you’re in control of moving to a sheltered spot before the rain starts, and a PhD is no different.

I always encourage seeking feedback from peers, advisers or writing groups to gain fresh perspectives and show areas for improvement. Remember, even the best beach set-ups need occasional adjustments to stay comfortable and enjoyable.

Practical tips for a successful thesis journey

  • Create a dedicated workspace: Just as you need a spot for your beach chair and umbrella, set up a dedicated workspace for your research and writing. This helps minimise distractions and fosters a productive environment.

  • Harness productivity tools: Tools such as project management software, reference management systems and writing apps can help streamline your workflow and keep you organised.

  • Take care of yourself: Remember that physical and mental well-being is crucial for sustained productivity. Take regular breaks, engage in physical activity and ensure you get enough rest.

  • Seek support: Do not hesitate to reach out to advisers, peers or writing groups for guidance and encouragement. Collaboration and support from others can provide valuable insights and motivation.

  • Adopt a growth mindset: Embrace challenges as opportunities to learn and grow. A growth mindset will help you stay resilient and motivated throughout your thesis journey.

  • Foster meaningful connections: Build strong relationships with your advisors and peers. They can provide support, feedback and collaboration opportunities that enrich your research experience.

John Sinclair is a part-time faculty member at the MBA programme at CSU Global.

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