When I cleared my thesis defense a few months back, I had thought – “Boy, that was simple. I can now write my thesis in two days”. Two indeed it was, but weeks that it took me to write it. That’s good too, thought I, as I clicked on the “pay now” button for my flight tickets for a week-long vacation in New York. The vacation never happened. Two months later, my advisor is still kicking my ass, making changes to my thesis. So here goes the equation: 2 hours to defend it, 2 week to write it, and 2 months to edit it.
Now this 2 month thing is an exceptional situation, or more of an equation imbalance with my advisor. I mean, who edits a thesis for 2 months, making me labor my ass off even on weekends? But my hate-post for my advisor would be written another day. However, as I am finishing up my process of writing my thesis, I realize that there indeed is a list of at least a dozen things one cannot write a thesis without. If you have been there, you know what I am talking about. If you haven’t, you will soon be.
1. Caffeine- It sometimes helps you not to fall asleep on your keyboard, but there is also something glamorous about walking the department corridor at 1 in the morning, a coffee cup in one hand, your satchel on the other shoulder, while you walk in slow motion with the other prowling night owls in the department. Not being a coffee person, I use it more for my image boost.
2. Ready made food- Maggi might seem as a mass of squirming caterpillars otherwise, but there is nothing more conveniently made and slurped on while meeting deadlines. Nothing beats the soups and sushi and spring rolls from Trader Joe’s. I have survived for weeks with my pantry stored like a bomb shelter with readymade food.
3. Eveready friends who will be willing to hear your whining at any time of the day (or night). Believe me, when you are done typing a hundred pages and have had it enough, you can do with an empathetic shoulder.
4. A post-thesis fun plan. It gives you lots of incentive to push yourself. Plan a trip to the Bahamas or the Hawaii. Keep aside a thousand dollars for your post-thesis fun shopping. You probably won’t be able to carry out these plans (unless you have a sugar daddy sponsoring you). This is just to trick you into working harder.
5. Lots of suddenly built rapport with the advisor. You suddenly want to call/email your advisor and end with a “thank you for everything you have done for me”, remember her birthday, send her a box full of Haldiram’s sweets on her anniversary, make her a dabba full of the best Indian curry your mommy taught you back at home, and remind her everyday how she is more important for you than your boy friend. This might still not save you from the onslaught of her making you write a hundred extra pages, but is still a good disaster contingency plan if you can tap on her more humane side this way.
6. Super skills with MS Office- I think I don’t just deserve a degree in whatever field in am in, but also a degree in MS Office from Mr. Gates. Never before have I known how to wade my way so smoothly through track changes, formatting, and Endnote data input. Don’t balk if I tell you it took me three whole days just to format my thesis and present it the way the school wants to read it, and I am still not done. Schools tend to be picky about small things like the page number being on top right and not bottom centered, following the same font type and size throughout, and leaving a margin accurate to three decimal places.
7. Throw away all the comfortable bedding, pillows, things that make you sleep. Instead, use your bedding and comforters to cushion your room wall(s). After months of hard work when your advisor ruthlessly chops off your favorite segments in the thesis, you want something to thunk your head against.
8. Plenty of change of clothes and lots of deodorants. There will be days at a stretch when you won’t be going home but would be working in that underground cubbyhole they call the computer lab.
9. Meditation classes with half a watermelon sitting on your head every day. There are times when you will be so close to snapping at your advisor, but will still have to smile your way through the process subserviently and keep your cool.
10. Lists. Lists of sections to finish. Lists of sections completed. Lists of diagrams and tables to include that no one cares about. List of people to thank in that acknowledgement section no one is going to read. List of reasons why you hate your advisor. List of introspective thoughts on why you don’t think you want to come back to school again. Write it down. Trust me, it is therapeutic.
11. A deaf ear. Soon, you will get used to words like “No, you haven’t”, “How come you can’t”, and “This won’t”. You will be made to feel as if you were born stupid. Just learn to gulp your ego with everything that goes down the throat, take the advice you think is useful, and dispose the rest of it.
12. The ability to laugh at the unfair side of things. You will be made to do things that you consider unnecessary and catering more to the whims of your advisor. You will be told things where you would want to scream back, “No, this is not the way it is”. But remember to choose your battles and fight those you think you can win. You need those approval signatures at the end of the day, and if that means working for an extra few weeks or repeating some experiments or rewriting entire segments, you might still want to get it done with and never look back again. Handle it with humor, handle it with wit, handle it with sarcasm, whatever it takes to motivate you to GET IT DONE ! Remember, there are far better things in life waiting for you once you are finished.
Like my acknowledgement reads, dripping with sarcasm,
“This thesis would have been finished long back without your positive input, interference or distractions- but wouldn’t have looked the same as it does today”.
If only I had the nerve to show it to her.