81 pages. 23,937 words. 1 hour-long oral defense. Although I never thought I would be able to say this six months ago, now I can: I DID IT! I successfully completed my master’s thesis (and my master’s degree).
For other international students preparing for the final semester of their master’s degree, here are my top tips for writing a master’s thesis in Germany.
If you are doing a classic 4-semester Master’s program, then I suggest you begin looking for a topic and supervisor at the start of your third semester. I chose my topic based on a term paper that I enjoyed writing and wanted to explore the material more deeply. You can also choose to write a master’s thesis within a company – such positions can be found on job websites like Indeed and Stepstone.
I approached my professor in my third semester to ask him if he could supervise my master’s thesis with my chosen topic. Since I had completed a term paper for one of his classes in the previous semester, he already knew me and my writing. So, he agreed to supervise me, but first requested a research proposal (Exposé). My proposal was about four pages long and included an introduction, research question(s), methods, and a short literature review.
After my first supervisor approved my proposal, he helped me choose and contact an external secondary supervisor. Then, after my secondary supervisor agreed and approved my proposal, my fourth semester was just about to begin, and I was ready to go!
STICK TO A SCHEDULE
The best part about writing a master’s thesis? The freedom of doing your own research! The worst part about writing a master’s thesis? The freedom of doing your own research.
Unless you are writing with a company, your schedule will be pretty flexible as you write your master’s thesis. This means that it is up to you to create a daily schedule that includes plenty of time for research and writing. At the same time, however, you do not want to burn yourself out by sitting in front of a computer for 12 hours a day.
Before starting my thesis, I procrastinated by doing research into productivity. Two methods stuck out to me, both of which I used throughout the various phases of writing my thesis.
The Pomodoro Technique is a time-management technique that is based on 25-minute productive periods followed by five-minute breaks. If you want some group encouragement in using this method, follow the Shut Up and Write account on Twitter (or Shut Up & Write UK), which leads Pomodoro sessions for academic writers every Tuesday. And if you need to write on any other day of the week, just send them a message and request to join the private Shut Up & Write group that is active just about 24/7.
If you aren’t in the mood for frequent breaks and would rather just power through your thesis, then the Martini Method is for you. Set a reasonable goal in the morning, work until you achieve this goal, then relax guilt-free for the rest of the day. Supposedly, this method was named after novelist Anthony Burgess’s writing technique, which involved writing 1,000 words every day. As soon as this goal was reached (regardless of whether it took just 1 hour or 10) Burgess would stop working and relax with a dry martini.
Your university will probably set a deadline for you to turn in your thesis (at my university, this is five months after registering your topic). However, unless you want to have a lot of sleepless nights at the end of the semester, you need to set incremental deadlines.
I created a spreadsheet with the final due date of my thesis and worked backwards from there. You can start by asking yourself the following questions:
How long will research/data collection take?
Do I need to conduct any time-sensitive empirical research?
How many days/weeks do I need to write each chapter?
How many weeks before the due date should I send a draft to my supervisor?
TALK TO YOUR SUPERVISOR
Your supervisor is there to help you. Sure, some supervisors may suck and not actually want to help you (or they “don’t have the time”), but in general, you shouldn’t be shy about going to supervisor for help or advice in the research and writing process. I know I could have saved myself a lot of headaches if I had just asked my professor for his professional opinion on certain research decisions early on instead of guessing and stressing about it for weeks on end.
KEEP THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE
Yes, your master’s thesis is important, and you should do you very best when writing it. However, it is just a master’s thesis. You should never let academic work stress you out so much that it effects your mental health.
While writing my master’s thesis, I got into a horrible cycle of sitting in front of my computer for over 10 hours each day. I constantly felt like my work wasn’t good enough and that I should be working even harder. After about a month of this, I forced myself to get outside each day by beginning the C25K running program. Spending just 30 minutes a day running around outside and enjoying the nature really helped alleviate my anxiety and keep things in perspective.
And that’s it! I turned in my master’s thesis at the end of November 2016, and I successfully defended my thesis on December 9, 2016. Here is a picture of me leaving my professor’s office on that day (with a face of pure joy):
What is your best tip for staying productive?