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BrainWaves: The Neuroscience Graduate Program Newsletter

The MiNDS of Our Alumni: Tips for Completing Your Master’s Thesis

AUTHORS: Steven Mancini & Roohie Sharma

Roohie Sharma (MSc)

Are you defending soon and don’t know where to start? BrainWaves writer Steven Mancini recently interviewed a MiNDS graduate about her final months before her defense. 

Please describe your overall strategy/action plan.

The first thing I did was write down all of the sections/sub-sections I would be including in my thesis. This allowed me to get a sense of all the different topics I would be addressing, as well as recognize any gaps in the thesis itself. It also allowed me to create a detailed outline, which helped with the formatting later on. I then made a timeline for each sub-section. Breaking the thesis into smaller, manageable chunks is a great way to stay on track and not get overwhelmed.


What timeline/personal deadlines did you put in place?

I took about a month and a half of writing time, mixed with some last minute experiments and analysis. As mentioned above, I set personal deadlines for each small section. I also addressed the easier sections, such as the “methods & materials” early on in the writing process, so that they were out of the way. I also went through my previous committee reports, and used the sections that I liked for my introduction and results. This allowed me extra time to focus on the gaps in my writing. Make sure you are realistic with your deadlines – you can’t write your introduction and discussion in a day. Allot an appropriate amount of time for editing as well.

What was the communication like between yourself, your supervisor and your committee members?

Although I wasn’t in the lab everyday during the writing process, I was able to email my supervisor whenever I needed clarity, or had questions about the thesis. Although I didn’t seek my committee members’ input as much, I found that they were more than willing to give insight when I emailed them as well.

What challenges did you encounter?

Personally, I was still trying to wrap up the last stages of my study, which I would not recommend. Make sure everything is finished so that you can focus solely on the writing portion, instead of trying to fill in spots in the results section while you are writing up. Make sure you leave enough time between completing your last analysis and submitting your thesis to write.

Looking back, is there anything you would have changed about your process/strategy?

Ideally, I wouldn’t have been running qRT-PCR while writing, but that is just how the timing worked out with a large turnover in my lab at the time. Except for that overlap, I was happy with how I organized my time. I wrote as much as I could without the last set of data – i.e. I wrote the methods, introduction, and all the results that I had to date.

Do you have any additional comments, insights, or advice that you think would be helpful for MSc candidates working towards graduating?

Make sure that you find a place that is comfortable and conducive to your writing. I wrote at a café with an endless supply of coffee and lots of sunlight. Make sure you’re still getting some exercise during the process – I biked to the café and back every day, which was at least an hour a day. I treated my writing days like a full-time job, and took some evenings to relax and de-stress with friends. You’re almost at the finish line, time to power through!


Thank you Roohie for your great tips!