Why should you write your own dissertation?

Writing a dissertation - suggestions and experiences

Author: Lars Frers (2007-2011)

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In this text I will try to give a brief insight into the process of developing a social science doctoral thesis. I am mainly referring to the way in which my dissertation and the dissertations of my colleagues and friends have developed. I myself pushed ahead with the work, especially during my time as a scholarship holder in a graduate college. As a scholarship holder at a foundation or as a research assistant, the process looks more or less similar. As a parent of a child, too, although in the course of the last few months the impression has increased with me that mothers take on significantly more responsibility for their children and accordingly have less time left for the dissertation than fathers. In any case, children seem to require more structured work - which is not necessarily a disadvantage: in our college, for example, a mother was the first to submit her dissertation. So being forced to structure life and work can also be helpful. The less time - for excursions to the periphery of work or a somewhat narrower selection of lectures - has a rather negligible influence on the quality of the work. I want to dedicate myself to this in the following.

One of the main interests of this text is to convey the possible Obstacles and delaysthat could slow down or even paralyze the process of preparing a dissertation too much. It took me a good three and a half years to submit my dissertation myself. That is apparently quick. But it still meant that I had to live on - and rightly notorious - unemployment benefit II / Hartz IV for more than seven months. During this time I got into so much debt (because I continued to take part in international conferences and had to travel a lot) that at the end of the time I had to pump money into different people. Based on this experience, I would recommend completing the work quickly - but of course everyone has to weigh that for themselves. The work can get better if you research it longer and take more time to write. However, the question arises, on the one hand, who actually appreciates this and, on the other hand (which is even more important), whether one cannot bring the things that are really close to one's heart into the world in a less in-depth, broader or more comprehensive form - there they are then still unfolded or unfold in peace. A self is spared nervous breakdowns, depression and doubts of all kinds.

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To begin

At the beginning of the dissertation there is usually a draft or an application for a project. It makes sense to do this design with other people discuss and check him for methodological and content-related problems. However, if you knock too wildly and too long, the story may seem rather hollow. You and well-meaning consultants then develop a multitude of ideas about what you could stuff into these many cavities. That is one side of the knocking process. The other is rejecting things (sources, objects, theories, methods, concepts) that are not absolutely needed - at least not at the beginning. I have seldom observed that the approach is too rigorous. As a rule, it seems rather that the other and oneself still so much comes to mind, what else could also be taken into account. If things go badly, you get so much baggage missed at the beginning of the dissertation that you then only drag yourself slowly and with great effort through the stony terrain of the following months.

In the first few weeks it also makes sense to get the work needed Infrastructure get together. What devices (camera, video camera, scanner, dictation machine / MP3 recorder, laptop) are required and who could finance them? You don't have to pay for everything yourself. Foundations, including those of your own university and the associated media centers, can sometimes help you with these acquisitions. The decision for the right software is at least as important. There are also word processors other than Microsoft Word. Some have no problems with Word, but there are sure to be solutions that are more stable and reliable. The word processor should make it easy to define global format templates for the entire dissertation. So you don't have to worry too much about the later layout when writing and changes at the last second are easier to do. The only thing that should be distinguished - but also from the beginning - is the semantic status of text blocks (heading levels, quotations, languages, highlighting, comments, interview sections, etc.). If the appropriate format template is assigned to each of these blocks, the final layout is child's play instead of the otherwise lurking horror. The word processor should also be able to work together with a reference management program if possible, so that one does not have to worry about the details of citations and bibliographies. Accordingly, you also need a literature management or bibliography program. (Endnote is probably the most common but not necessarily the best solution.) I also wrote something about the software I used for my work on Mac OS X: Tips on the software. Regardless of which software you choose: the correct use of the program or programs does not fall into your lap and it really pays off to invest several days in familiarizing yourself with the software (how do templates work, how do I give literature correctly into the literature database, ...). Yes, you read that right: multiple days for systematic training. That makes sense even if you've always somehow got along.

The best decisions and ideas are of no use if the hard drive dies under the keyboard and not a current one Backup is at hand. I think it's more likely than unlikely that your hard drive will break within three years - especially if you're on the move with a laptop. But there is also more than one data disaster. It happened to me twice. Accordingly, the work should really be secured, without exaggeration, on each day that something was done to it. When I write every day, I mean everyone Day. So that this actually works in everyday life and despite all the convenience, the regular backup strategy must not be too complicated. A USB stick, MP3 player or smartphone, onto which the edited files are pushed before shutting down the computer, is perhaps the simplest solution. In addition, a backup should also be saved on a completely different medium at regular intervals. So copy everything to a different data carrier every two weeks and then store it in a different location than the one on which the computer is located. Or put the data in a dated folder on a server every two weeks or send it by e-mail - or have an extra copy of everything in the. It cannot be said often enough: hard drives break, computers are stolen, USB sticks are lost. More than one backup medium is definitely needed.

What I hardly thought of before my dissertation, but which in retrospect has proven to be not unimportant: In what places can and do I actually want to write or research? In the office or at home? In your home university or in “foreign” libraries? Personally, I gave a huge boost to my literature research when I was working at the Kongeligen Bibliotek in Copenhagen. I didn't know anyone in Copenhagen (apart from my girlfriend, who was there for an archive visit), and had practically nothing else to do but work. But more than that: I found the library so appealingly designed and pleasantly used that I really enjoyed staying there and worked in a strictly regulated daily routine. If there are no such places for you, it may be worth looking for them. A nice place, away from the distractions of everyday life, can really help tremendously. But a well-furnished study with the right atmosphere and an ergonomic working environment gave me more inspiration than I would have previously hoped.

Where I'm at the wing: what is it that actually prompted me to do the dissertation? Which ideas or goals carry me? What is mine motivation? The work on the dissertation takes years and after that you don't necessarily get paid better than before. Whether you get a job is usually written in the stars. So it would be nice if Athena lures with knowledge and wisdom or if something simply needs resounding criticism. It helped me to know which carrot I am actually trotting behind like a donkey. It is probably best if not only the enticing carrot is fat and juicy, but also if the ground on which I am moving is known and firm, so that I know what terrain the coming months will take me through. Regardless of whether you always see the carrot in front of you or whether you are groping around in the dark and hoping for a light to save you at the end of the tunnel - the work should be so fulfilling in terms of aesthetics and content that the long journey is worth it. And if you can't be so sure about that, it might make sense to make sure that you at least make your way there pleasant and take the time for a pleasant stopover every now and then. Even if the guilty conscience is never far away.

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In the field and in the library

This section is about the actual research work. I myself spent these outside rather than inside in the archive. No matter where: for me it was important to be at the place of my research, to spend time there - sometimes more focused and exciting or discovering new things, sometimes desolate, flipping or looking around at random. The longer you linger, the more subtle there are. The small nuances in boredom can collect in this way and at some point show conditions that cannot be perceived in a quick swipe by. Or they are really just repetition. Is also good to know. In any case, all of this can only be said if time is not only there for discussion but also for letting the impressions sink in. Whether the sagging takes place in the field or in the archive or whether it only happens in the breaks between stays - being in the field, hanging around in the places that are important to you - they show what what is happening (or the discourse or the problem or whatever).

That was one of the most exciting aspects Dig in the remote corners, in the niches and forgotten places. After the first visits to the field, I thought about what I was missing that I hadn't looked at yet. It seems to me that there are two main reasons for overlooking them: On the one hand, these places or places are actually so remote or so covered in other material or impressions that one can easily overlook them. On the other hand, one also fears confrontation with what one suspects there. The unknown could either simply be uncomfortable or not fit into the scheme. But it could also throw constructions over the pile that have been carefully put together. For example, I wasn't sure for a long time to what extent I should also deal with the workers in the train stations and ferry terminals where I observed public life. After some time, however, it became clear that these do indeed play an important role - a role that perhaps has little to do with the direct everyday experience of the people there. But a role that works in the background and without which what is normal in the terminal could not be constituted. In the same way, rummaging in the nightly corners of the train stations has shown some of what is hidden - or what should be hidden or what feels compelled to hide. It takes some effort and maybe also some courage to really dig into the depths of the material or the place. In!

But since both digging and hanging around eventually find their limits, it was important for me to do something variety to bring into my doings. Be it the mentioned stay in a foreign library, in a foreign city, be it the writing of a small article or the participation in a conference. Every now and then I had to get out of the hustle and bustle that established itself over time. Whether this change should also be directly academically usable or whether you simply take a break and enjoy spring or read a few books that may not really have to do with your own topic; These breaks helped me to stay safe and sound and thus also alert and motivated. Variety and time-outs are fruitful - but also the fact that they are just beautiful seems to me a good reason not to withhold these things.

I would not have been able to write my dissertation the way it turned out if I hadn’t gained my experience in the field and in the library with others could have shared. The most important thing for me was to find people who have similar motivations (including political ones) and who have similar methodological and theoretical interests or who are confronted with similar problems. Here, too, it is important to overcome the fear of revealing too much. Make yourself vulnerable, admit your own problems and look for allies. As Rio Reiser already sang with the broken pieces: ... The old and established often want something different from themselves, are tormented by other questions and are in a different position. Even if you mean it well: your horizon is different and it is less important to make your own horizon congruent with yours than to explore your own horizon in its fullness and to use all the possibilities for action that it offers. This works best when you are not alone. Others can show you things that are perhaps on your own horizon, but that you did not have the courage or the opportunity to perceive on your own.

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Schedule and Outline

I had already drawn up the first schedule for my own dissertation for my application. According to him, the dissertation would have been completed in two years ... Not that I would have thought that completing the work during this time was impossible - but I kept the schedule so tight because the scholarship at a graduate school is actually limited to two years and can only be extended for another year. As a rule, this extension is more or less a matter of form, at least as long as you have actually worked on the dissertation. Accordingly, I had three years at my disposal. To finish in these seemed to me practically a matter of course, after all the money runs out after three years. And why should it take longer? Doesn't make sense! So much for the theory - and the corresponding practice of the first year and a half. After two years, I had to submit the final application for an extension. I then attached a specific schedule to it, which I not only stick to, but which I actually wanted to outperform. However, over the course of the following months I repeatedly found: one needs nearly always longer than you think.

Preparing an outline is a real hurdle. You have to pull yourself up, pick up threads and untangle them, run the risk of noticing that the threads are nowhere, too short or breaking. Depending on how seriously or how loosely you take the dissertation, how much of your own identity you attach to your scientific work and how complex the subject is, creating an outline can become an almost insurmountable obstacle. For me, a great way to deal with these difficulties has been this Structuring as a step-by-step process to see. After the basic structure is in place, shifts are possible. The final verdict on the structure of the work has not been reached - smaller or larger units can and will shift, disappear or reappear. Therefore, the creation of an outline can actually be tackled in a relaxed manner. The war cannot be won in a battle anyway. Because the opponent is unpredictable, as the morning look in the mirror shows again and again.

But waging a war against yourself is not a nice thing. One can easily despair in oneself, because the freedom and openness that is available when structuring oneself also has a downside: responsibility. Responsibility to oneself. Responsibility that permanently rests on me, since I can decide at any moment to structure my work differently.Is it that good Good enough? Can't it get any better? Does that actually fit together? Even if more than a hundred pages have already been written - actually everything is still open ... This is the trap that lies on the other side of openness: a letter full of doubts. The fear of declaring a section complete, not doing it well enough. How to deal with this fear? How to overcome the paralysis? That is perhaps the most difficult question, especially when it is most urgent. A tactic that may be helpful here is to outsmart yourself by splitting the joint roast into bites. First cut the roast into the coarse parts (head, torso, limbs) and then process the parts. Regular and short is better than seldom and full of strife. It is crucial to explain the short breakdowns as separate, i.e. not to squint too much at the other parts of the roast when cutting and especially when eating. You just have to believe that the other bites are actually digestible. Regardless of whether these things are easy for you or not: working on the outline is a time of strife. For my work, it made sense to maintain the structure with specialized software outside of the actual dissertation document. Also with regard to the structure, dealing with others helps not to get too involved in your own problems and develop ever greater frustrations and depressions about it - always showing others what it looks like at the moment, even if it is a large, even as a single, senseless chaos appears. A roast like this is too much for you alone, it only gives you stomach pain.

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Distract and toggle

It has probably already become clear: I value sociability just as much as good food and the leisure time to let the time slip by. Am open to distractions, one could also say. Because dealing with others, the distractions and disturbances always hold a potential for creativity and turn out to be creative breaks. But they also demand time. Whether it's hanging out in a café or weddings among friends who are slowly getting older: distraction by others is lurking everywhere. And they don't just have to be pleasant - breakups or anger with friends or colleagues are very unpleasant in themselves. They get even more bitter during this time. So back to the schedule again. The plan I made for the final year of the dissertation was based on a very detailed outline. The chapters were divided into sections and subsections, for which I had already given all relevant terms and keywords. I then assigned a certain number of pages to each of these units that I thought I would need for processing. I then estimated about two pages per working day, so that in the end I came to about one hundred pure working days. I then tried to align these working days with my schedule for the coming, last year so that there was still time for vacations, conferences, etc. Fortunately, it turned out that I would probably be finished writing a month before the end of the scholarship. So enough time for corrections and additions.

Despite this detailed planning, which also takes longer time off into account, and despite the strong will to complete the work early, I needed more than half a year more than planned. How so? In the final year of the dissertation, I was finally ready to do parts of my work to present at conferences. As is the case with conferences, books are made about some of them. For this or for other reasons I had to and wanted to to write an article. As a result of co-organizing two conferences, I had the opportunity to attend the Publication of books to participate. In addition, I received a previously unpredictable amount Auxiliary work got in the way, which I didn't always want to and couldn't avoid. All in all, the time spent adds up to quite substantial amounts.

Together and in the sequence in everyday life, these things not only take away the immediate time that I spend on them, I still need a lot leaderuntil work on the dissertation gets going again - if the time between these events is long enough to switch to dissertation mode. Weeks went by in which I did not write a single line on the doctoral thesis.

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Quarrel and get ready

I have now listed a multitude of obstacles, distractions and entanglements that delay the completion of the doctoral thesis, that can throw a stick between the legs and strain nerves and soul to the utmost. In order to finish the work anyway and not just myself, I had to give myself strict instructions and follow them. It helped me a lot, clear and achievable goals head for. Fixed, near-by dates that editable sections must be ready by. This is extremely satisfying - especially if you even manage to finish a section a little earlier.

I was not challenged very much in this regard, but of course it is also helpful for an early conclusion if you can Fixed dates set by others. All quarrels and doubts are of no use, someone else wants to see what is written. The less compliant this other is, the easier it is to externalize the pressure on oneself and curse others. If it is not the doctor's mother or doctoral supervisor, it might help to find someone and agree on the clearest possible sanctions in the event that an appointment is not kept. Without sanctions, the whole thing is often of no use. Of course, there can be reasons that legitimize a postponement. Quarreling, feeling depressed and unsure about the quality of what you have written should not count among them. Least of all should you be afraid of admitting your own weakness. You're already a battered creature. Your own meat is so soft that you don't have to cut yourself into it. Really not. I've heard from several people that they made much better progress after they got over it and decided to coach. So take courage!

The work won't be perfect. It probably won't be as good as it could be, either. But the work is usually gone through again before any publication takes place. While writing the first version of this text, a month and a half after my disputation, I gradually found the distance to untie knots, remove superfluous things and make necessary additions. If the work is not going to be published in a big way anyway, then it is all the less important that it is super good. Whether this or that additional aspect is taken into account or not is less important for the quality of the work - but I myself can get lost in it up to the proverbial collision with the wall. The main thing is that the core arguments are there and convince.

I tried to concentrate on such core arguments in particular because this work is not my whole life. There are a thousand different demands to myself and to the work - every examiner wants something different, loved ones and friends as well, and even after finishing the work you probably don't really know what you actually wanted. At least that's how I felt, no matter how often I presented my or my interests to others and myself. (At the word I can only roll my eyes - a Question ?! That I don't laugh! What an absurd, almost dangerously simplistic idea ...) Despite all the problems with different demands, it was a practical necessity for me not to lose sight of my core problems.

The final phase of the dissertation is a time of suffering - to speak of stress would be an understatement. Two things have helped me through the past three months when my life has been all typing. Tap and stare at the screen. To sit. Sigh. Without one clear routine I couldn't have mastered the final phase. The world consisted of the dissertation. I like to work into the night, so I got up late and had a long and extensive breakfast. But then the rest of the day consisted only of writing and a short visit to the pizza baker or the Asian snack bar around the corner. No time to cook. Little time for friends. Maybe an episode from my favorite series before I go to sleep, so that I can hopefully dream of something else ...

I typed, sat and stared. And got lumbago - my second in three years working on the dissertation. Only then did I start really doing something for mine physical and (as is well known but also actually true :) spiritual compensation to do. Twenty to thirty minutes of dull pounding and puffing every other morning. After that, however, lively slackness, which contrasts very pleasantly with the tenacious slackness of the mind. After a few weeks, even less back pain than before the start of the hot phase. In hindsight, the silly morning exercise was probably one of the smartest moves on the way to finishing my work. I am sure that otherwise I would have suffered increasing cramps and tension. And with all the other trouble that really doesn't need to be.

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To celebrate!

Shocking distress - is it time? Just like that, from one paragraph to the next? Hard to believe. But that's how it happened, very real. Some night I'll have it last line of my final chapter typed. Parbleu! I still had the final correction and the layout of the entire work in front of me, but in retrospect that was exactly the most solemn moment for myself. The thing is finally in the machine. I then treated myself to a fine peppermint liqueur with ice cubes and enjoyed the view of the summer night sky. That may not sound attractive to everyone, but there is sure to be something like that. It's almost done.

Unfortunately only quasi, because as it turned out in the following time, the final correction was the most frustrating part of the whole work for me. Three people more or less proofread the entire text (unfortunately none of the three have mastered punctuation - I don't anyway - which led to an otherwise really nice review of my work written by Christine Neubert containing the following sentence:). Three people said that I really had to revise this very important section because it couldn't be done that way. Of course, they all meant a different section, more of this, less of it and vice versa. Of course they were (mostly) right. But what will happen to my work then? Is it still what I had in mind and what I wanted to express or achieve? And how am I supposed to manage all of this? Despair was the order of the day and hair was pulled like never before. Fortunately, in the end I had a surprisingly close and at the same time compelling deadline before me (and the horrific JobCenter on the back of my neck), so that I just made decisions without worrying too much about the consequences. Nevertheless - I'm glad that I had already celebrated a little one-man party beforehand, because after the final revision and correction I was so exhausted that I didn't understand anything at first. But despite all the anger: the rituals should be followed and the handing in of the work should be celebrated. If that Submit The profanity of the work in the dean's office is hard to beat, you should in any case acknowledge your own condition as a physical and nervous wreck - and go completely below sea level in the right company. So to speak.

Then there is time to relax. (Hopefully.) And get really sick. (Probably.)

And then, at some point, it comes Disputation - the first official occasion to celebrate. There are probably different customs here. the official part was limited to sparkling wine and pretzels after the exam. Since most of my friends were not or no longer in Darmstadt at the time of the disputation, I only celebrated the actual party later in Berlin. Unfortunately in the run-up to Christmas, so that not too many people could come. But you should celebrate the festivities as they come, which is why I didn't wait until the New Year - a time when the disputation would have been more than a month ago. Then there is the next publication to celebrate. Let's see how long it will take - a couple of months for sure. [After all, it was more than a year before I got the finished book in my hand.]
Until then and after that, I wish everyone the best of luck and lots of courage for writing and researching!


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For all doctoral students, here is a small contrast reference: How do I get around writing my dissertation? Guide for doctoral students. This text, translated from Swedish, is a real pearl, with many tips and hints for all situations.

Finally, a few references to websites related to my dissertation (in chronological order):

  1. Project application (my project outline for application to the graduate college)
  2. Interim report (first, compulsory interim report written after six months)
  3. Example of a video analysis (gave me the opportunity for initial feedback from others)
  4. Essay on basic terms (an essay in free form - for self-understanding and as a basis for comments from others)
  5. Second interim report (necessary so that the scholarship is extended from two to three years)
  6. Enveloping materials. A phenomenology of perception and action at train stations and ferry terminals (website accompanying the finished & published book)

Finally, there is also the keyword dissertation in my weblog, under which you can find all kinds of entries on the topic.