Pursuing a doctoral degree and finishing the PhD thesis on time is not an easy endeavor: you have to manage time between literature research, lab experiments, writing, publishing, seeking a job (if you are close to the end). Thesis writing is usually one of the main bottlenecks and causes of delay.
Students take in average 6-9 months to finalize it.
Where do I start?
Is this good enough content for a PhD thesis?
Am I writing in excess and wasting my time?
You could reduce 30% of the time by following these steps:
1. Focus on planning experiments before the execution
You worked hard, spend 8-12 hours per day performing experiments, collected many data points. You decide to postpone the data analysis to test 2 or 3 more variables and produce more data. This costed you another 2 weeks of work. You take one day to evaluate the information and realize that it does not answer the questions of your hypothesis. Why? Because you did not have a clear hypothesis before! You experiments and outcomes should be addressed and designed to answer specific questions. If you do not know the questions you are making, you run the risk the data you produced is useless. Use this Checklist to assess if you have a clear method to identify the research questions and hypothesis.
Rule number 1: do not assume that all work you did is valid
Focus on the questions you want to answer in your thesis. Align the questions with your thesis advisor, you both must be on the same page. Focus on the experiment design to test only relevant variables. Do not overdo with experiments.
2. Set meetings with your advisor regularly
Many students waste time and energy pursuing wrong hypothesis in their PhD thesis and questions because they did not not have a regular communication channel with their advisor. The thesis advisor is your GPS to guide in which direction the thesis will go as well as the thermometer to test how hot the data is to able to publish in relevant journal. You should set up regular meetings and keep them updated on the progress of your research and experiments. Use advisors and peer feedback in a positive way to guide through the right directions. Set regular meetings with you advisor using current tools (e.g. Outlook recurring meetings) in order to have a placeholder in his calendar and ensure a consistent communication. Send pre-reads before every meeting and determine a clear agenda. Use this Checklist to assess if you are using the best communications and documentation practices
3. Do not fall into the perfectionism trap
Perfectionism = overdoing = waste of time. This is one of the most common causes of delaying the dissertation timelines. Some students are so worried that their writing is not good enough and they spend unnecessary time on re-writing, editing and/or over-writing. Put initial efforts on the content first: what are the questions you are asking? Are these new questions or already questions the literature has answers? Are the methods you are using appropriated to the answer these questions? Do the results answer the questions? Leave the editing (word choice, style, and formatting) until the very end.
4. Set boundaries and trade-offs while collaborating
Collaborative approach is very important not only during the academic research but also when you transition to the industry. However, you should set a limit. The more senior scientist or Professors might want a volunteer to prepare the media, to run the autoclave, to label the samples, utilize your capabilities to run an analysis set in the equipment you are well trained. All these might be deviating your focus. Set a limit of hours per week you can afford to help others. Alternatively, trade off and negotiate your help for their help. E.g. if takes you 3h to run a HPCL analysis for a peer or colleague, ask him to proofread the latest chapter of your dissertation. That is then a win-win situation.
5. Document your experiments rigorously
Documentation is essential practice in Quality Management and if you want to produce data with quality make sure you document properly. Keep the records of your study design, protocols, results and data processed / analyzed. See in this Checklist Tool the documentation that is required. Ensure that all meetings with your advisors are clearly documented and summarized. Have a second person to review the most critical steps and/or data (4 eyes principle). These quality standards will be required once you transition to the industry so make sure to get familiar with these practices.
Remember: this is only the beginning of the journey!
If you use the right techniques to finish the thesis faster you can save 30% of your time and re-allocate to secure a job offer at the right salary level. I encourage you to have a look at the The Ultimate Guide to Secure a Job Offer and to Negotiate your Salary.