This post is written by Arien Hielkema (pictured below)
With the final months of your academic journey coming to a close, it is perhaps topical to talk about some key learnings from my own recently finished Master’s degree, with the hope that it will highlight some of the obstacles that can stand in the way between you and the finish line.
One of the hardest things that I personally had to deal with was spending too much time focusing on perceived ‘important’ tasks. It is possible to get too close to the project, addressing each task as it comes to hand, instead of critically analysing the time you have left, against the tasks you have yet to finish. Being proactive, as opposed to reactive, will allow you to understand what you need to achieve before the deadline, and potentially stop misguided time management.
Another side effect of not managing your time well is that you can become stuck in a research feedback loop. It is too easy to continue adding new research, instead of closing the loop. Have faith in yourself and the work you have done to date. I found that I was a lot more comfortable hiding behind a book or the latest research paper, than defending my opinions. Once I eventually stopped hiding, and started to analyse and synthesise all my research, the unanswered questions I was trying to answer miraculously started to resolve themselves. The research I had already conducted was more than enough to finish my thesis.
My last piece of advice to ensure that you don’t fall at the last hurdle, is this: don’t be afraid to lean on those around you for help and support. This support is something that should be implemented from the word go but is often forgotten about. There is a general misconception that the research journey is one that must be walked alone. In my experience, the more support the better. I personally found this advice the hardest to follow. The research journey is taxing and can mentally take a toll on you. Instead of carrying this mental burden alone, I (eventually) chose to seek help from family, work colleagues, classmates around me, and my supervisors. This helped me to normalise the issues that I was facing, as I was too close to this project. I couldn’t quite see that ‘the light at the end of the tunnel’ was closer than I thought. Their support helped me to gain new perspectives on my project and allowed me to finish.
At the end of the day, you will reach that deadline. You will find finishing your thesis the hardest thing that you have ever had to do, but three months after you finish, you will look back and think “well that wasn’t so bad”. You are the master of your knowledge now, so wrap it up in a nice little bow, clean up all the edges, and make it look a million dollars.