You’re at this point in your life where you’ve made a major discovery: you don’t want to run a lab, write proposals, deal with grad students who are always complaining about experiments not working, broken equipment and ordering that $500.00 kit that they "absolutely" need.
Congrats! All major discoveries are followed by major returns. Next: how do you get out of the university lab?
You must: finish your thesis! But that’s easier said than done, right?
Here are some practical steps to get on with finishing your thesis:
1) Tell your supervisor that:
You want to explore a career outside of academia. Just be honest with them, it will save everyone involved time and effort.
You have enough data to write up. To find the answer to this question, read a few of the most recent thesis that came out of your lab. How much data was required? Do you have roughly the same amount? If not, is your data better quality or more exciting?
2) Summarize all your experiments in a one-pager. I chose a table where one column has very short description of the experiment and the other a very short summary of the results.
3) Summarize all data in a multi-page document. I chose to put all experimental figures of my thesis into one document so that, even without words, the data spoke for itself.
4) Schedule a meeting with your supervisor and discuss 2) and 3). The goal of this meeting is to ascertain that you have the right data required to write a comprehensive scientific “story.”
5) Assuming you got the go-ahead at 4), it’s now time to schedule a committee meeting. The goal of this meeting is to make sure that your committee members are on the same page as your supervisor, i.e. that you have the right data required to write a comprehensive scientific “story.”
At this point, there may be discord between your committee members as to whether you need to perform more experiments. Don’t take it personally; different supervisors have different expectations from their students.
Now that you’ve convinced everyone you’re ready, you can start writing.
3) Prepare all figures, charts, and illustrations in publication-style quality. If this means learning how to use Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop then that might be what you’ll have to do. Your school likely has this software available free-of-charge at the library.
4) Create a detailed outline. You already have a rough idea of what your thesis outline will be due to 2) but now it is time to elaborate on it. Start with the big picture: chapter headings, then subheadings etc. Organize your thoughts coherently but remember that the outline is fluid and will likely change as you keep working on your thesis. Most importantly, always keep the reader in mind; your goal is to communicate your thoughts clearly to them.
5) Fill in the detailed outline with sentences. This is often the most daunting part for many writers. Keep in mind what every section is trying to accomplish. Ask yourself: “What am I trying to get across?” and write out the answer, referencing your figures.
6) Make your presentation slides. Super easy – just take your results figures and use the subheadings under which they’re placed in the thesis as your slide titles. Remember to have some basic explanation slides in the beginning because not all of your committee members might be experts in your research topic. If profs hate one thing, it’s not to be able to understand a piece of research!
7) Logistics, like getting a date set for your defence, going through more edits of your thesis and slides, practicing your presentation.
8) Meet with every committee member to find out what sorts of questions to expect in the defence. Some profs like asking about techniques, some like referring to a particular piece of literature (and might event expect you to remember author names!), while others will want you to understand the bigger picture. Make sure you have all your bases covered.
9) Exam day. Be prepared but remember that as a researcher, you’re not expected to know the definitive answer to everything. When you don’t know the answer to a question, admit it and come up with a reasonable explanation of what the answer may be. If your committee has allowed you to proceed to your defence, they want you to do well and pass. They know that you are under a lot of pressure and will likely guide you to the answer by rephrasing the question.