Thesis, graduation and life after university, part I

It’s been a long time since I last wrote something for you, I’m sorry! It’s been a crazy time lately. Now I would like to share with you some insights on what to expect when you are about to graduate and the options you have after you finish your studies at TTÜ. I know you probably haven’t even started your studies yet, but trust me, time flies! It’s hard for me to believe it’s been two years since I decided to leave everything behind and move to Estonia, so before you know it, this advice will hopefully come in handy.

The nightmare of writing a thesis

There are thousands of memes regarding writing a thesis and I must say they are all pretty accurate: writing a thesis is not fun. For bachelor’s studies it is not so complicated as it only needs to be at least 30 pages long, but if you are writing your Master’s thesis, then you will need to fill at least 60 pages… with font size 10 😐 . I did a Master’s thesis so I can’t really comment on the process of writing a Bachelor’s one, but either way here’s what I suggest you do to make this process less painful:

1. Manage your time wisely

The last semester of your studies is dedicated exclusively for writing the thesis and while that sounds like a lot of time at first glance, trust me, it’s not. Trying to find information to back up your topic, looking for books and journals, reading though them, filtering the information, summarizing it and then writing coherent paragraphs with it is not an easy task, and it will take you weeks to figure it out. Additionally, if you need to get information from some other people, you need to consider that most of the times they will not respond immediately and you will waste a lot of time waiting for their answers, begging reminding them to send you their information or answering your surveys. And of course, if your supervisor thinks you are not on the right track, you will need to redo a lot of what you have already written.

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The conclusion from all of this is that you should avoid procrastinating at all costs and start as early as possible with it. I know how tempting it is to think “oh well, I still have two months to finish this, let’s go watch a movie” but I also know that “oh no, I still have 20 pages to write and I have to send the finished version to my supervisor in 3 days!” is not fun at all. Which brings me to the next suggestion:

2. Try to find a topic even before the last semester starts

The hardest part of the whole process for me was to find a topic. The university doesn’t really provide options so it is up to you to come up with something to write on.  This is particularly problematic with engineering programmes because the university prefers real-life topics instead of purely theoretical ones. As foreigners, this can be a problem because we don’t really have too much real-life experience. What I mean by this is that most Estonian students are already working (at least in the Master’s level) so most of them choose a topic related to their company where they have experience and can get information from. But for foreigners this is not so easy: most of my international classmates had been working only for a few months so they didn’t really have too much insight from their jobs to be able to find a topic on it and of course if you are not working, then it gets very complicated to find something to write on.

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I became Post-It’s best customer when I was writing my thesis

So my suggestion is that you try to identify an area where you would like to write a topic on already on the second or third semester (choose an area that you like! There’s nothing worse than writing about something you hate), get in touch with your teacher/potential supervisor who works on that area and ask him/her about options for your future thesis. That way once the last semester starts, you can start immediately working on it.

3. Get a reference management program: Mendeley

I learned about this software from a classmate and I must say it is wonderful (and free! 😀 ). For the Master’s thesis you need to have at least 20 different references, and it gets tricky to manage them all after they start to accumulate (I used more than 60). With Mendeley, you can upload all your PDF books, papers and articles on it and there’s a desktop and a cloud-based version, so you can access them from wherever you want (my computer actually broke down while I was doing my thesis but since I had all my documents uploaded on Mendeley, I didn’t lose any of my sources of information, so it was life-saving for me). It also has a plug-in for Word, so you can insert citations with a couple of clicks and the reference list at the end of your document will automatically appear on the format you choose.

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Screenshot of the desktop version of Mendeley

Here’s a video on how it works. Fun fact, I know the guy who made that video, he was an Erasmus student in Prague when I was also there as an exchange semester years ago. This is a very, very small world 🙂

4. Read “How to Write a Thesis” from Umberto Eco

This book gives some fantastic advice and it is also surprisingly really funny. The book was written in the 60’s or 70’s, long before the use of internet sources and project management tools, but the concept he suggests of keeping an organized archive of sources is quite useful and still relevant; proof of that is that the most recent edition of this book was done in 2015. It’s just that instead of paper cards, you can use Trello or Evernote to keep track of your ideas. You don’t even have to read it all, the first 20 pages give you a good idea of how to address this hard (and most of the times boring), but necessary task. There are a couple of copies of this book at the library at TTÜ, so take a look!

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Picture taken from MIT Press

5. Get together with your classmates and rehearse your thesis defence presentation

My classmates and I did this and it was super useful: we got together a couple of days before the defence and rehearsed our presentation; then we could get feedback to know if we managed to keep it within the time limits, if we were going too slow, too fast, if they understood what we were talking about or if we should change something.

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6. Enjoy your graduation ceremony, you will have worked hard for it!

Some of the ambassadors graduated this month (including myself), and it was an awesome experience. I had told some of my classmates that I was a bit sad that none of my family members would be here to celebrate with me and they were super kind, they brought me flowers and some of my classmates who didn’t graduate yet showed up for the ceremony as well to congratulate us. This goes on to show that Estonians are not as cold-hearted as you might think. Just give them some time and they will become truly trust-worthy, fun and supportive friends.

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That’s me receiving my diploma from the Rector 🙂

7. Start looking for a job

This is an important topic that deserves a separate post, so please be patient, it will come out soon 🙂

 

-Fabiola

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