Preparing, Starting, and Conducting a Thesis Study: Do This Before You Start!

HomePreparing, Starting, and Conducting a Thesis Study: Do This Before You Start!

Writing a thesis study is the pinnacle of your academic education. This guide explains how to decide your thesis question and plan for, begin, and conduct your thesis study.

Best practices

Build relationships

It is essential to develop a good working relationship with your supervisor, secondary supervisors, other PhD students, and support staff. There will be days when you feel frustrated and want to give up. Talking to your peers will provide encouragement. This is also a great way to troubleshoot any problems you may have been unable to resolve. For example, if an experimental technique is not working, other students may be experiencing the same issue, and collaboration can quickly resolve it.

Relationships with support staff are just as valuable as those with academic staff. Treat them with respect, and they will be willing to go the extra mile for you (e.g., fixing the copy machine when they were about to go home).Without a doubt, the most important relationship is with your PhD supervisor. As an expert in their field, they have a working knowledge of your subject area and are up to date with the latest developments. You will meet regularly for formal one-on-one meetings to discuss your research progress, where you will receive guidance and constructive feedback. Informal discussions are also appropriate when you have an immediate concern, so feel free to pop by their office or drop a quick email if you need some advice. Remember, your success reflects on theirs, and they expect you to come to them if you have a pressing issue.

Participate in department or research group activities

Build relationships with fellow PhD students and staff members in your department by attending research seminars, field trips, and journal clubs. Also, attend any organized social events; they are great networking opportunities.

What if I don’t get along with my supervisor?

Your relationship with your supervisor is crucial to your academic success. They are the first point of contact if you encounter problems with your thesis study, and you should be comfortable working with them. Address any communication issues as soon as possible. Often, they may be unaware that there is an issue and will appreciate you bringing it to their attention. Usually, a frank and open discussion will resolve the problem. For example, let your supervisor know if you feel that you are not be receiving enough feedback or that they are micromanaging you. Do not feel intimidated—supervisors were also PhD students at one time!

If you can’t resolve the issue between yourselves, ask one of your secondary supervisors, another staff member, or your head of department to act as a mediator. A change in supervisors must be the last resort. You are likely to encounter this person again; be cordial, and don’t burn bridges.

Steps for writing a thesis study

Refine your research question

Once you have identified a field that interests you, narrow it down to decide exactly what you want to research. Research questions can be practical (e.g., a process that does not work properly or an issue faced by a specific group of people) or theoretical (e.g., relationships or opposing theories that have not been evaluated).

Your supervisor may already have projects in mind where they need a PhD student to build on existing work in their research group. Alternatively, you might identify a gap or contradiction in the literature that you think requires further investigation, or you might be continuing your existing research by building on the findings of your Master’s degree.

Plan your thesis study

Planning is the cornerstone to successful research. You may have already written a research proposal, which you can use to plan your research steps. Perform a literature review to familiarize yourself with your field of research. If you are aiming for a PhD degree after your Master’s degree, you may already have done this, but you should still check for new publications in the field since your last literature review.

Plan your thesis study using the SMART objectives:

  • Specific
    • Your research question must be specific and not vague.
  • Measurable
    • Your research results must be measurable, either quantitatively or qualitatively, in a practical and cost-effective manner.
  • Achievable
    • You need to complete your thesis study within the set timeframe and budget.
  • Realistic
    • Don’t set a goal that you are incapable of achieving. Ensure that your objective addresses your thesis question.
  • Time-bound
    • Create an achievable timeline and set specific milestones with dates (e.g., collect all specimens by 7 July).

Find a suitable working environment

You will need a suitable working environment for drafting your thesis paper. Your workspace should have all the resources (e.g., computer, stable internet connection) for you to plan and write up your work and should be as free from distractions as possible. If you can, plug a second monitor into your laptop so that you can read your references while writing. This will also save a lot of time and money on printing. A coffee maker is an added bonus!

Start your thesis study

Complete your induction

New PhD students undergo an induction program. This involves:

  • Meeting academic staff, support staff, and fellow PhD students
  • Receiving details of meetings, journal clubs, and seminars held by the department or your research group
  • Receiving training on health and safety and the standard operating procedures (SOPs ) of the lab where you will be working
  • Completing any other relevant courses (e.g., radiation safety course, training on animal handling)

Start writing

The sooner you start work on your thesis study, the better. Before you begin, you may need to write grant applications, research proposals, or an application to upgrade your Master’s degree. You will need to perform a literature review to complete these activities. Some of this information will be used later when you write the Introduction section of your thesis study.

Conduct your research

Start your research for your thesis study as soon as you can. Although your final results may only be generated in year 2 or 3 of your study, with good planning, you can begin preliminary experiments or pilot studies early. Get into the habit of regularly and meticulously recording all experiments in your lab notebook as you go, analyzing the outcomes, and saving all data.

What if my study focus changes?

Your research focus may change during the course of your investigations. This happens more than you think. Because you will be investigating new concepts and ideas or untested hypotheses, expect difficulties and setbacks. For example, your focus may need to change due to problems with experimental techniques, unexpected results, limited financial resources, or unforeseen limitations.

What if my research is poor or doesn’t work?

Expect to encounter problems early in your research. This is part of the research process. Use these experiences to explore other approaches. Remember that negative results are still results. You may even end up including them in your final thesis.

Speak to your supervisor if your research is not going according to plan. They have vast experience and may suggest alternative approaches to solve your problem. Try problem-solving with fellow PhD students or researchers in your lab. Some of the best ideas come from a good brainstorming session.

Conclusion

Thesis studies are hard work, but nothing beats the satisfaction of completing your PhD! Spend time formulating your thesis question. Careful planning is vital so that you complete your thesis on time. Ensure that you have the necessary approvals and certifications to conduct your research. Check out our site for more tips on how to write a good thesis/dissertation, where to find the best thesis editing services, and more about thesis editing and proofreading services.

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