Thesis writing: Preparing in advance

Thesis writing: Preparing in advance

It’s time to talk thesis writing, a topic I know a lot of my followers are waiting to see pop up on my blog! For for those that don’t follow my science journey, I’ve submitted my thesis and my PhD viva/defence is next week! Throughout the process of writing my thesis I noted down bits of advice I thought would be worth sharing – a combination of things that really helped me and things I wish I had done in hindsight.

Of course, every PhD is different and our experiences are all going to vary hugely. However, there are definitely some golden nuggets of advice which will hopefully help everyone out.

There is SO much information I want to discuss so I’ve decided to break in down in to a series of posts. So let’s start from the beginning. Here are some tips for how to prep for thesis life when it’s not the sole focus and you’re still in the laboratory/generating data.

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My top 10 thesis prep tips:

 

1. Plan ahead. When do you want the research component finished? When will you start to focus primarily on your writing? When will you have a first draft completed by? Set these deadlines earlier than you’d like. Everyone I know has said the process takes longer than you expect, me included.

2. Prioritise. To achieve the above, prioritise! Make a plan for the rest of your laboratory/pre-writing work. Discuss with your supervisor the list of priorities… 1) What is necessary for you to pass your PhD. 2) What would be nice additions if you have the time. 3) Extra work which would be an additional bonus for your thesis, it’s not vital and could be a project for a student.

3. Make a thesis outline plan. Get a plan together of chapters and headings so you can start to think about the thesis flow. Arrange a meeting with your supervisor(s) to talk about this so you know you’re on the right track. Once you have that flow you’ll have a clearer idea of how your thesis will shape up, exciting!

4. Familiarise yourself with thesis guidelines. Check your university’s thesis guidelines and apply this to your outline plan. Most likely there will be specific margin requirements, font size, line spacing, order of content etc that your thesis has to be inline with. Check if it’s required to be bound double or single sided (if double you need mirrored margins to account for the binding edge. Having a play with this and getting it all set up when you have a spare hour here and there prior to writing will save you a lot of time formatting in the long run..

5. Make graphs as you go. Graphs tend to be more time consuming to make than you think! If you have a spare 30 mins in between experiments and you have data to plot, graph them! Arrange them into a layout so they’re good to go into the thesis. I use GraphPad Prism to make my graphs, a really user-friendly bit of software.

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6. Little bit of reading each week. Even if it’s just one afternoon a week, try to set time aside to stay on top of the literature. It keeps you in the loop with current research. Some people say you should read every day. Well, from my experience that was totally unrealistic. In fact, squeezing in reading every week was tough due to the nature of my experiments. A lot of my reading was done during the thesis write-up. Not ideal, but hey!

7. Note down all the details. Make sure any protocols and methodologies you use throughout your PhD are written in detail (including manufacturer/product details). It’s the little details that can be forgotten so quickly! When I came to writing up about the animal model I set up, there were so many steps and considerations that I had forgotten when it came round to writing the methods section… so thank goodness I’m thorough and all those details were already in a document. A lot of time information searching saved.

8. Utilise the positives of social media. A PhD isn’t like an undergrad or a masters where everyone in your cohort has the same exams and the same deadlines. Thesis life can be a little isolating in that respect. If you’re on social media utilise it for your needs! Follow and interact with other people in the same position as you. It can be a good source of support, Instagram was great for that!

9. Look at previous theses. Ask your supervisors, colleagues and friends to look at previous theses. They will give you an idea of what you’re going to be embarking on.

10. Remember the lab work/thesis is never a finished product. There’s always more experiments which could be done and different ways to analyse the data. You have to draw a line under the work at some point in order to get that thesis written, submitted and be awarded the title Dr.!

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Medic, researcher and blogger – Dr. Farah

Medic, researcher and blogger – Dr. Farah

It’s time for another Scientist Showcase and I’d like to welcome you to the wonderful Dr Farah! Farah is a medical doctor specialising in Infectious Diseases and Microbiology whilst also doing an academic research component investigating the effect of antibiotics on the gut microbiome and human breath. I love learning more about what she gets up to in the clinic and in the lab over on her Instagram! Farah is a self-taught belly dancer (incredible!) and a lover of tea, travelling and reading! Over to you Farah…

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Tell us more about the scientific research!

We’re doing a pilot study looking at how the route we administer antibiotics (through a drip or via tablets) impacts on the community of organisms/bugs (microbiome) that live naturally in the human gut. This is a big topic in research at the moment as we’re learning that while we live in harmony most of the time with this microbiome, it can affect our health, our brains and even how we think! Importantly, changes in this gut microbiome can lead to the development of antibiotic resistance. If we can reduce effects on the microbiome, then we can potentially reduce antibiotic resistance. A lady in the US recently died because the infection she had was resistant to all our antibiotics. This should be one of our biggest fears- the antibiotic apocalypse!!

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What inspired you to go into medicine? And what inspired you to add research into the mix?

In all honestly, I wasn’t sure what to do in life (is anyone?!). I’ve been lucky in that I’ve managed to end up doing something I really love but that was honestly touch-and-go for a while. I wasn’t doing brilliantly in my AS levels and aiming for medicine helped me to achieve my grades. When I got into medical school, I found that I enjoyed the subject and I got better and better at it over time. I’m also a people person and enjoy the mix of skills, teamwork and the general variety within medicine. I was introduced to research during my undergrad- I did an extra degree for a year in International Health and conducted research in Ethiopia. I decided I wanted to be able to spend a bit of concentrated time on research, so here I am!

“I’m just proud of what I’m doing and have done, and happy with where I am in life.”

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How do you find balancing being a doctor and doing research? That’s a big job!

The NIHR-funded Academic Clinical Fellowship is great in that it allows for dedicated time to focus on research that is protected from clinical time. However, it is really tough pursuing both simultaneously and so I am having to balance that mix a little. I do it by trying to plan ahead, by listening to my body when it’s tired and by cutting myself slack when I’m not “achieving” the way I want to be. I find giving myself deadlines that I tell other people is also a big help. Also, I LOVE my Filofax. Writing things down physically and giving myself tick lists is the only way I focus my mind. I review and rewrite it every Sunday and during the week I work through it. I make that list short though. No more than 3 or 4 things to do. Never set yourself up for a fall!

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What advice would you give to those considering/currently combining medicine and research?

Do not say yes to everything. You have to learn to say no sometimes.

BUT be brave enough to say yes to open up opportunities for yourself!

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I learn so much from your science IG! What led to the decision to document your medical/science journey on social media and blog?

I’m not 100% sure how it happened. I think it started as a way of cementing my own learning. I’m a very visual learner so Instagram was an ideal platform. The blog came about because I had more things to say than I realised! Also, in thinking about doing a PhD, I noticed that funders like you to share your research and science, so I realised it wouldn’t just be seen as ‘time-wasting’ either. Scicomm is a skill (and a very difficult one to master) so every little helps. I became increasingly enthusiastic and I found the community a fun and supportive one too.

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Why is science communication important to you?

Lots of reasons, I think. It’s about showing the world why you’re passionate about your job and inspiring people to consider your career too. The thing with science communication is it breaks these ridiculous myths that science isn’t cool or that you have to be completely boring to do it. I want kids to be excited by schooling. I work with a charity called Students for Kids International Projects (SKIP) and when I was at uni we went to Zambia. The kids we worked with LOVED going to school- they saw it as fun, as an opportunity. I think finding learning fun is actually very natural for humans but it’s not always taught in the most engaging way. That’s because it’s difficult to do! Taking part in scicomm activities is challenging for me but it’s important in enthusing younger generations and showing them different possibilities for themselves.

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Finally, how do you balance work/scicomm and personal life?

I’ve been a bit poor at this for the last year or so, I’ve enjoyed my job so much and the balance hasn’t been great. Outside of work I used to go to Lindy Hop classes and my husband and I danced at our wedding in Lindy style! At the moment I mostly try to keep up with friends, relax in the evening to keep my sleep hygiene in tact and do exercise. Exercise used to be belly dancing around my room but now consists of BBG, walking and running. I also like reading and that for me is the best way to keep up with my Spanish language learning, in fact I’m reading Harry Potter in Spanish!

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Thank you Farah for being a guest on the blog! To learn more about her journey as a clinician and a researcher you can find Farah on Instagram and Twitter. Also, go and check out her blog!

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Science, scicomm and vlogging – Martijn Peters

Science, scicomm and vlogging – Martijn Peters

I’m very excited about the first Scientist Showcase of 2018! I’d like to welcome you to Martijn Peters, a scientist and very talented science communicator living in the land of beer, chocolate and French fries – Belgium! Over to you Martijn…

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So, why science?!

The origin of my spark for science can be traced back all the way to my early childhood. My grandfather took me on many hiking trips and explained everything he knew about nature. As a consequence, I developed an intrinsic need for wanting to understand everything that occurred around me. This eventually resulted in me studying the awesome science field that is Biomedical Sciences at university, I then specialized in Bioelectronics & Nanotechnology for my Master’s degree, and recently completed my PhD.  

“The human body is one of the most amazing accomplishments of nature and I really wanted to learn how it works and interacts with its environment.”

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Congratulations on getting your PhD just before Christmas! Tell us about your research!

Thank you! My PhD research revolves around a specific aspect of our brain. Our brain is one of our most precious treasures, one that requires protection at all costs. Therefore, nature safeguards it behind an impenetrable wall, called the blood-brain-barrier. This fortress keeps foreign invaders, like diseases, out but also makes it very hard for us researchers to investigate the brain when something goes wrong. As a results, to this day the working mechanisms of many brain diseases are still shrouded in mystery.

During my PhD I designed novel visualization probes that enable us to study the brain and diseases that wreak havoc upon it. These visualization probes are nanoparticles, small spheres one million time smaller than the width of a human hair, that consist of semiconducting polymers. Most people know these polymers from applications like solar panels or OLEDs that reside inside your smartphones and TVs, but they are also fluorescent and non-toxic. I covered the nanoparticles with special structures, which ensure that they will target specific cells, like a guided missile system. On top of that, they are small enough to cross the daunting blood-brain-barrier! This type of novel visualization probe will help us shine a new light on brain diseases like Alzheimer’s, Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson’s.

Martijn - PhD defence

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For other current/soon-to-be PhD students, what are your dos and don’ts?!

Persistence is the key! If you’re persist you will get there.

However, don’t lose yourself in the process and don’t focus too much on the accomplishments of others. It can be quite stressful working in an environment that consists of nothing but top students. You often wonder if you are good enough. But rest assured, you are. You are also one of those students. You can do it! So work hard for your passion but also don’t forget to take a break now and then. You need and deserve them!

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Why is science communication important to you?

To me, science communication is important because it is all about building bridges. We often forget that we are the expert in our own research topic, and everyone else (even fellow scientists) are a lay audience.

“Learning how to communicate will not only help society but also science. A good scientist is a good communicator.”

Throughout my PhD I discovered that I could combine my creative side with my technical side through science communication, which has been an eye-opening experience for me. I am rather proud of my science communication achievements (especially since I managed to achieve them without losing any quality in my science work) and it has become a passion for me.

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So you’re an award-winning science communicator? Tell us about OMGitsScience!

OMGitsScience is a project that I started to show the human side of science. Too often we just shower people with nothing but facts. Yet we do not provide them with insights into who we are or how science works. Because these aspects are missing, people have a hard time making a connection of trust with scientists and distinguishing between “science facts” and “fake facts”. To counter this movement, I started communicating science on Twitter and a YouTube channel called OMGitsScience on which I show the life of a scientist through vlogging. I’ve also embarked on an Instagram journey recently (I really love editing pics and combining them with a story).

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Check out this fun vlog which showcases a day in the life of Martijn! Enjoy!

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Finally, how do you balance work and personal life?

I think a healthy work-life balance differs for everyone. Some weeks were really hectic during my PhD with zero free time during the day, and some weeks were rather “chill” with lots of time to do things not revolving around my PhD. You have to listen to you own body and discover what works best for you. I have used most of my free time for science communication projects (from speaking assignments to competitions to organizing a TEDx conference to starting a YouTube channel). I love being creative and it gives me an outlet to combine science with creativity. I also really enjoy reading, watching series/movies and running.

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Thank you to Martijn for being part of my blog! I absolutely love to hear about the lives of others. He’s a brilliant science communicator so please go and follow him on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and of course him awesome YouTube channel!

 

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One year of blogging

One year of blogging

A year ago today I announced the start of “In a Science World” and published my very first blog post! Where has the last year gone?! It’s been an incredible journey and I didn’t quite expect it to take me places it has done!

I started my blog as a way to figure out whether science communication was a career route I’d like to pursue. Let’s just say I haven’t had the most seamless PhD journey and about half way through I came to the realisation that a life in academia is not for me. With plenty of thinking time and self-reflection, I realised I LOVE the science and I love teaching others about it, but I do not enjoy the process of making the science! Weird right?!

Writing my blog has opened up many opportunities that I never imagined a year ago. It’s led me to being publicist for Pint of Science, completing a science communication internship, jumping out of my comfort zone and performing my very first science comedy set and being very kindly awarded the Versatile Blogger Award…. How crazy?!

When I set out on this journey I didn’t know whether people would care about what I wrote or would be interested in what I have to say but I want to say a massive thank you to YOU!! Thank you for reading this post, for taking time out of your day to read the words I write and for following my blog (if you don’t you totally should!). Thank you for following my science journey through Instagram, expressing your support through ‘likes’ and comments and sending words of encouragement. Thank you for listening to what I have to say. I whole-heartedly appreciate all of your support.

Thank you to YOU!

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The last year has taught me a lot. Here’s what I’ve learnt over the past year (yes you know I love a bit of self-reflection) and the other awesome blogs I value, which if you also don’t follow already you really should!….

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What my first year of blogging has taught me:

  • People do actually want to hear what I have to say and value it – that makes my heart feel warm and fuzzy.
  • 1000+ word blog posts are not ideal. I’ve cut them down – minus a few!
  • Posting once a week is the most I can commit to whilst doing a PhD. That’s a Thursday by the way.
  • There is an amazing and very supportive online scientific community – especially on Instagram.
  • Instagram is such a powerful tool – I can reach out to so many people.
  • As an aspiring science communicator never shy away from ‘scary’ opportunities. They will only enhance you and lead to more awesomeness!
  • Twitter is hard for me to stay on top of – I need to work on my Twitter presence!
  • I learn so much from other scientists on social media.
  • Social media analytics are interesting in order to see what posts generate more engagement BUT I cba to analyse them for hours. I want to carry on posting what comes naturally to me and what I genuinely want to say. A scientist ignoring stats?!
  • For someone who wants to always improve, there is not enough scicomm training in the UK. But… 2018 is coming and I’m involved in some cool stuff to tackle this 😉
  • You can (and should) do other ‘science-y’ things around your PhD. Maximise those opportunities! You’ll never know where they may take you.
  • Many PhD students don’t have an easy ride. You are NEVER alone and there are always people who can relate. My PhD SOS is my most popular feature… didn’t actually expect that.
  • It is SO hard for me to say no to exciting opportunities. Anything seems more fun than writing this thesis.
  • Hmm… I seem to have learnt a lot!

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I started this blog and my scicomm journey just as I was heading into my final year of PhD, so you could say it wasn’t an ideal time! The thesis will be handed in soon so let’s see where 2018 takes me and my blog. I love this science communication world I’ve discovered.

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On a final note my most popular blog posts are “The PhD Slump” and “PhD self-care tips“. Remember: A PhD is tough and you are not alone. There is a wealth of support out there for you and seeking help is not a weakness. Do what is right by you, do the science, be awesome and thrive! Don’t just try to survive.

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Finally, time to share the science love! Here are some other blogs to go and nose at! Just click on the pictures!

Making it Mindful
Making it Mindful
dr.ofwhat?
dr.ofwhat?
Sasha
PhDenomenalPhDemale
Conservationist Krissy
Conservationist Krissy

 

Fresh Science
Fresh Science
Bites of science
Mr Shaunak’s Little Bites of Science
Scientific beauty
The Scientific Beauty
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Soph.talks.science
Heidi
Heidi Gardner

 

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