25 May 2020 / Blogs

Transitions: Moving from One Chapter to Another without Losing Control

After the semi-serious post on the challenges posed by the lockdown (which you can read here), Alessandra shares the challenges of a more research-related issue: the transition between chapters or sections of a PhD thesis.

I recently finished the first draft of my first chapter, and I have just started my second one. Despite having written a fairly detailed plan of my thesis in the first year of my PhD, I felt lost when I started thinking ‘what am I going to write in Chapter 2?’. No answer. None of my ideas seemed to be appropriate enough, clear enough or articulated enough. This resulted in one entire week spent wondering whether I had to move forward or rewrite my entire thesis from scratch. Here are five tips that helped me choose the first option:  

  1.   Take your time. A PhD is, ideally, a three-year journey. It is impossible to have all the answers to your research questions right at the beginning. The greater amount of research done, the more time you need to let your thoughts sit quietly in your mind, until they fall into place.
  2.   Identify lines of research. If you start your research with some key questions, ideally stemming from the work you have previously done, then you are less likely to get completely lost. And yet…
  3. Get lost, it’s the beauty of research. In the past few days, I had 20 tabs simultaneously open on my laptop. Feeling confused is the least I could say. However, jumping from one idea to the other – and from one tab to the other – made me realize that my brain was incredibly active. That’s exactly the reason why we do what we do.
  4. Go with the flow and write. As my incredibly wise supervisor always says, if we don’t see a problem on the page, we will never be able to fix it.
  5. Talk Talk Talk! I cannot stress this enough. I love describing my research to my poor parents, although I’m not sure they always understand what I say. Yet, when I try to explain what I do in a simple way, I am forced to clarify controversial issues. Plus, the advice of peers and more experienced colleagues is invaluable. (Thank them for listening and sharing their knowledge with you!).

In the end, I didn’t rewrite my thesis from scratch, I actually wrote the first fifteen pages of my second chapter. I am sure I will feel lost again and I will have the same temptation to throw away all the work I’ve done. But, when that time comes, I’ll read this post again, hoping to find the motivation to move forward. Be kind to yourselves, stay connected in these strange times, and share your research as much as possible to facilitate your own transitions. The NRN are here to listen!