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How to Finally Get Your PhD Finished: Tips for Completion

How to Finally Get Your PhD Finished
Table of Contents

The final year of your PhD is all about pushing towards the submission of your thesis. To reach that point, you’ll need to consolidate and finalize various aspects of your work. However, this stage requires a shift in your approach. If you continue doing the same things, you might find it difficult to actually finish.

Throughout the course of your PhD, most of your activities will generate more potential work. For instance:

  • The more reading you do, the more references you’ll find to read.
  • The more data you gather, the more analysis you’ll have to perform.
  • The more analysis you conduct, the more questions you’ll raise.

This continuous cycle of generating more work is a perfectly natural aspect of research. Each step you take opens up new options and directions that you could potentially follow. This process can lead you to places and discoveries that you never could have planned for. It can also result in unexpected findings that enrich your research.

As you move towards the final stages of your PhD, it’s crucial to change your approach in order to avoid getting stuck in this endless cycle. Focus on consolidating your findings and finalizing your thesis. This means prioritizing tasks that are essential for the completion of your thesis and setting aside those that could lead to more extensive, time-consuming work.

By shifting your approach and concentrating on finalizing your work, you’ll be able to successfully submit your thesis and complete your PhD journey.

Embarking on a PhD journey is filled with exciting discoveries, but it also brings a significant amount of uncertainty. As you explore more options, the possibilities for further exploration seem endless. However, if you want to complete your PhD, you need to put a stop to this growing uncertainty at some point. You must halt the data gathering, stop investigating new ideas, and start focusing on finishing your work.

What Does It Mean to Finish Your Thesis?

Once you submit your thesis, it becomes a fixed, unchangeable document. This means:

  • You can’t add anything more to it.
  • You can’t remove any part of it.
  • Any brilliant new ideas that come to mind will be too late to include.

Working Backwards from Submission

To understand the concept of finishing, imagine working backwards from the submission date. By the day before you submit, you should have time only for minor tweaks. All the central ideas, analysis, and conclusions must already be in place by then.

Finishing your PhD requires a disciplined approach to wrap up your research, compile your findings, and present your conclusions in a coherent and polished form. Remember, the key to success is knowing when to stop exploring and start finalizing your work.

When you’re one week away from submitting your work, the focus shifts towards editing and refining rather than making significant changes. At this stage, you might be tweaking a few sections, adding a couple of paragraphs, or wrapping up the conclusion. However, all the key decisions should already be made by now.

Finalizing Your Work

The general trend as you approach submission is that the changes you make become smaller and more precise. You’re no longer exploring new ideas but rather consolidating and finalizing what you already have. This means the uncertainty about what you’re going to present should gradually decrease until it reaches zero, and everything is in its final state.

The PhD Journey

Throughout your PhD, your research becomes more complex and uncertain over time. But as you near the end, the goal is to reduce this uncertainty. Here’s a summary of what happens:

  • One week before submission: Focus on editing and refining.
  • Key decisions have already been made.
  • Changes become smaller and more precise.
  • Uncertainty gradually decreases until it reaches zero.

By understanding this trend, you can effectively manage your time and efforts as you approach the final stages of your research. Remember, the closer you get to your submission date, the more you’ll be fine-tuning and perfecting your work rather than making major changes.

Embarking on the journey to complete your PhD can be both exhilarating and daunting. One of the crucial steps in this process is recognizing the tipping point—the moment you transition from creating new possibilities to finalizing your work. This shift requires you to be decisive about what to include and what to exclude, as both choices are equally important.

Making Decisive Choices

To reach this tipping point, you need to be absolutely certain about several core elements of your research:

  • Research Questions: Clearly define the questions your research aims to answer.
  • Theories: Identify the theories upon which your work relies.
  • Analysis: Determine the type of analysis you are conducting.
  • Main Arguments: Outline your primary arguments.
  • Key Data: Highlight the data that is crucial to your arguments.

Reducing Uncertainty

Once these decisions are clearly made, you can begin the process of actually finishing your dissertation. This involves reducing the uncertainty about what you’re going to say and focusing your efforts on crafting a cohesive and compelling final submission.

The amount of stress you experience in the final months of your PhD is greatly influenced by how well you manage this transition. By being decisive and organized, you can significantly alleviate the pressure and move confidently towards completing your work.

When you’re approaching a submission deadline, making key decisions about your analysis can be incredibly stressful, especially if you leave them until the last minute. If you’re just two weeks away from submission and still uncertain about your analysis, the level of uncertainty and stress can be overwhelming. Therefore, starting your decision-making process early is crucial.

Early Decision-Making is Crucial

The earlier you start making decisions about what you want to include in your analysis and what you should leave out, the better your final work will be. This proactive approach reduces last-minute stress and uncertainty. However, committing to your arguments can be challenging due to the fear of making the wrong decisions.

The Dilemma of Decision-Making

It’s natural to worry about making the wrong choices. Many people try to avoid committing to a specific direction in their analysis by leaving their options open for as long as possible. While this might seem like a good strategy to avoid mistakes, it often leads to bigger problems.

  • Not finishing your work on time
  • Having to make rushed decisions under pressure
  • Producing a less convincing argument

Consequences of Delaying Decisions

By delaying your decisions, you risk either not finishing your work or having to make critical decisions in a hurry, which is far from ideal. Rushed decisions usually result in a less convincing argument and a lower-quality submission.

Conclusion

To ensure a strong and compelling analysis, start making decisions early. This will not only reduce your stress levels but also improve the quality of your final work. Commit to your arguments and embrace the decision-making process. Your future self will thank you.

Making decisions out of fear of failure often leads to the very failure we dread. A common mistake is attempting to include everything in your thesis—every theory, every idea, and every citation—in the hope that you’ll accidentally cover what the examiner is looking for. This strategy is flawed because there’s always more you could add. Instead of strengthening your thesis, you end up diluting the strong points, making it harder for examiners to understand your main argument.

Focus and Commitment

When you make key decisions and commit to them, other decisions become easier because they are interconnected. This focused approach ensures that your thesis remains clear and coherent.

Practical Application

So, how can you apply this practically?

  1. Prioritize Data Collection: If you still need to gather data, make this your top priority.
  2. Early Data Analysis: Analyze the collected data as early as possible.

By following these steps, you can ensure that your thesis is both strong and focused, making it easier for examiners to understand and appreciate your work.

When embarking on a project, analyzing your data should be your top priority. This initial analysis will guide your decision-making process. Once you have a clear understanding of your data, it’s crucial to present and discuss your work frequently to gather valuable feedback. This practice will help you identify your strongest material and ensure that the essential content is included.

Deciding What to Include and Exclude

One of the critical aspects of managing a project is determining which ideas to pursue and which to let go. If you find yourself with more ideas than you can feasibly include in your thesis, consider it a positive sign. However, it’s important to be selective and focus on the most impactful content.

Setting Important Deadlines

To stay on track, you should set a definitive date to stop gathering new material or data. Additionally, if you don’t already have a submission date, establish one. Meeting these deadlines hinges on making decisions that align with the available time.

Time Management and Decision-Making

Effective time management is essential. Make decisions based on the time available rather than attempting to do everything. For instance, recognize when it is necessary to forego certain tasks because they do not fit within your time constraints.

  • Analyze your data to guide decisions.
  • Present and discuss your work frequently.
  • Identify and focus on your strongest material.
  • Be selective and let go of less impactful ideas.
  • Set a date to stop gathering new data.
  • Establish and adhere to a submission date.
  • Make decisions based on the time available.

By following these guidelines, you can efficiently manage your project and ensure that your final work is both comprehensive and impactful.

Meeting deadlines is essential when writing your thesis. If you don’t make timely decisions, all your deadlines will slip. When you’re writing, aim to finish each section by solving the problems that arise and making all necessary decisions on the spot. Avoid delaying decisions for later.

Submit Your Thesis with Confidence

Submitting your thesis means facing the judgment of the examiners, which can be a terrifying thought. However, it’s a risk you must face. Personally, I dealt with this fear by telling myself that I didn’t care what the examiners thought. I accepted that if I failed, it wouldn’t be the worst thing that could happen and that I would be okay. It might be horrible, but I would find a way forward, and it wouldn’t define my life.

Key Strategies to Overcome Thesis Submission Anxiety

  • Make Decisions Promptly: Address issues as they arise to keep your progress on track.
  • Avoid Procrastination: Don’t leave decisions for later; handle them in the moment.
  • Accept the Risks: Understand that facing the examiners’ judgment is part of the process.
  • Stay Positive: Remind yourself that failure is not the end and that you can overcome any setbacks.

By following these strategies, you can submit your thesis with greater confidence and peace of mind. Remember, it’s about progress and not perfection. Each decision you make takes you one step closer to your goal.

About the author:

Picture of Dr. Friederike Jurth
Dr. Friederike Jurth

Possibly you already heard of me through different media channels. My name is Dr. Friederike Jurth, and I hold a certificate from Harvard in Higher Education Teaching. Since 2010, I have given lectures on Methodology, Empirical Research, Anthropology, and Transcultural (Music) Studies in collaboration with universities in the United States, Germany, Spain, and Brazil. In 2010, I began a 7-year-long fieldwork project in Rio de Janeiro and have since presented my research at conferences worldwide, including in Japan, the United States, Australia, Brazil, Thailand, Switzerland, and many other countries. Additionally, I have worked as a lecturer and researcher with Germany’s renowned UNESCO Chair.

After completing my doctoral dissertation with summa cum laude, I aimed to unite, condense, and share the steps, ways, and details of my unique methodological and structural approach that I developed during my Ph.D. and that ultimately helped me achieve this result. By concentrating and putting them together into an elaborate academic conception, MyThesis Academy was born. Motivated by the sole aim and objective to help my students through all steps and stages of their thesis journey, MyThesis Academy enables them to achieve their best possible results in the shortest time, independent of their specific area of research.

In addition to my extensive teaching and research experience, I am part of the authors of the Cambridge Companion to Music in Brazil 2024, published by Cambridge University Press & Assessment, where I contribute as a Cambridge Author. This work is a co-operative project conducted remotely from Cambridge, England, United Kingdom.

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