There’s less than two months until my research thesis is due and I don’t think I’ve ever stressed about an assignment this far ahead of the due date. Then again, I’ve never done a research thesis before. I’ve also never spent so much time in the library before.
Last time I wrote about my thesis I was freaking out. My research wasn’t yielding many relevant sources and my topic was starting to look a bit fuzzy. Fortunately my thesis supervisor came to the rescue, helping me to clarify my topic and pointing me in the direction of some good resources.
One of the databases my supervisor recommended to me is the Social Science Research Network, which has a great collection of articles relevant to my topic. It’s definitely worth checking out for your next assignment.
After some success with SSRN, I decided to cast a wider net. My university library didn't have a lot of resources for my topic so access to a different university library was an absolute life saver. Like many thesis topics, my area of research has non-legal elements. I’ve found that taking in relevant sources from psychology, the media, science, the arts, anthropology, history, and the like can really enrich your discussion of the legal issues. Of course the non-legal sources you consult will really depend on your thesis topic - I’ve been reading child psychology and arts journals.
After freaking out about not having enough material, in the space of a few days I found that I now have plenty and the researching part of the thesis is mostly over.
The only problem with finishing your research is that you then end up with a lot of reading to do. At least this process has created a use for the excessive number of promotional post-its and highlighters I was given at law careers fairs earlier this year.
I’ve also learned that it is very important for a thesis student to have a good comfortable chair. You’re going to be spending a lot of time sitting so a good chair can make a difference. I’ve moved an armchair into my bedroom and piled the books up all around it. It’s my island of thesis. I’m beginning to feel like I’ve gone into academic hibernation.
The Day-to-Day of a Research Thesis
Another thing I’ve discovered is the importance of starting early each day rather than sleeping in. Staying in your pyjamas also isn’t conducive to work, and the time I spend each morning showering and dressing in some day clothes is totally worth it. I’ve found I end up feeling more refreshed and motivated to work.
I have a timetable for completing my thesis, but I also set myself goals for each day. Even if the goal is as simple as ‘read the Senate report before lunch,’ it really helps to keep me on task.
A big thank you to Nicholas Mirzai, who shared some fantastic thesis advice with Survive Law that helped me to kick my procrastination problem. Like some sort of academic addiction, I’m finding that I now need to work on my thesis each day. If I have to do something that isn’t related to my project I find myself getting really cranky. Crazy, I know, but I’m hoping the enthusiasm doesn’t wear off because it’s helping me to get through the work.
It’s been really important to have someone (preferably from a legal background) to discuss my thesis with. So I’ve enlisted the help of my long-suffering boyfriend (a law graduate) who has been a fantastic help by debating aspects of my hypothesis with me. He’s provided new arguments and perspectives on my topic that I may not have easily come to on my own.
While working on your thesis you’re going to have lots of ideas, particularly when discussing your topic with someone. Open a document and write these thoughts down. Sometimes you’ll come up with an additional argument or question, or maybe you’ll phrase something in a way you really like. Put it on paper. Trust me, you won’t remember it otherwise.
Refining my question
For the first few weeks of writing a thesis, the topic was quite fluid. The problem is I found that I got to a point where every article I read could be relevant because I hadn’t pinned down precisely what my thesis was going to be about. On the other hand, I couldn’t do this before I had some idea what information was available to write about.
I’ve now planned my structure and written one clear statement on what my thesis is about and it’s made such a difference. A clearly stated thesis question and structure is a road map to writing a thesis. I’m still adding further details to it, but I am now able to better organise my notes and know where I need to do additional research. Having a structure and clearly stated thesis is also conducive to feeling calmer about the process. I feel like I’m finally at the point where I can start writing.
Highs and Lows
Thinking there are no sources on my topic.
Reading Hansard. When debating a bill, it seems that all politicians have a pre-written speech. This means that nobody really responds to points raised by other pollies and you end up reading the same points over and over again.
Finding there are actually plenty of relevant sources for my topic.
Writing my thesis structure and discovering that I didn’t need to do a lot of extra research, and realising that this may actually end up being a good and interesting essay.
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