Completing Your Motherf*ckin’ Dissertation In A Week: The Kit

Sometimes life deals you a crappy hand and at the end of a long, somewhat bizarre chain of actions-and-consequences you end up abandoning all the plans you’d been working on for months, and you’re left with one week to write your dissertation. Sometimes you’re just really f*cking lazy and god who even knows how to start on this shit, and you’re left with one week to write your dissertation. Sometimes both of these things are true, and you’re – you guessed it – left with one week to write your dissertation.

r u kidding me human (This is how the actual cat I live with actually looks at me.)

r u kidding me human
(This is how the actual cat I live with actually looks at me.)

I used to protest when people said things to me like, “Why am I even asking you about the essay? You’re probably not gonna even start till the day before it’s due.” I know I’m a bad student, see – I don’t usually do more than the bare minimum I need to hold my own in class – but I’d like to think I’m not that bad.

Now though? Now I’m learning to embrace this. ‘Cause you guys, I’m beginning to realise that I’m actually really good at getting things done at the last minute. It isn’t even panic that motivates me – things that stress me out include “bra shopping,” “heterosexuality” and “these goddamn moths,” not school assignments of no real consequence in the Grand Scheme of Things – but rather that I’m really good at pacing myself once I can see the deadline as clearly as a hard brick wall in front of me.

So today we’re going to talk about tackling 10,000 words of amateur academia in a week. There will be Netflix and kittens and not half as much caffeine as you’d expect. Get your game face on.

Getting Started

Put on some pants. (Both the British and the American kind.) Or a bra, or some shoes. Maybe a button-down shirt? Whatever it is that makes you feel like you’re doing Real Work even though you’re gonna be cooped up indoors for a week. Have you checked out our Autostraddle store? I did my entire dissertation while alternating between the red and blue A-Camp hoodies, so clearly there’s magic in them.

Set up your work situation. I have a typewriter and an endless supply of A5 MUJI notebooks to work through first drafts. When you’re working on the computer, I recommend Todoist, 30/30 and Self-Control. (I’ll admit the last one wasn’t always 100% foolproof for me, so as a back-up plan I also suggest “surrendering control of your Facebook account to your partner.”)

Go grocery shopping. No, seriously, you’re running a marathon here, not a sprint – if you’re breaking out the instant noodles from day one, you’re not gonna make it. Here’s what I prepared (mostly) in advance and kept within craving distance, in decreasing order of difficulty of preparation:

  • Curry & rice/quinoa
  • Roasted vegetables & pasta
  • Hummus & pita/carrot sticks
  • Oatmeal & fresh fruits
  • Walkers salt & vinegar crisps (shh they were on sale)

Along the course of the week I also acquired two whole cakes (it was my birthday), an 8-pack of Kit Kat Chunky bars (also on sale) and a bag of salted peanuts. All of them were regrettable decisions. STICK TO THE PLAN.

Getting Down To It

Plan! Again! And then some more! It’s tempting to play it by ear when you’re so close to the deadline and frustrated by feeling you’re getting nowhere on the word count, but it is way worse to realise you have no idea where you’re going 3,000 words in. Fan of linear essay plans? Use Google Docs or TextEdit or something, no need to get too fancy. (I actively discourage getting fancy when planning.) Need something more expansive? I like MindMup. Can’t decide? Check out Text 2 Mindmap.

Pace yourself. Plan your work schedule, too: know how much you need to get done and by when, and be realistic about how much you can achieve in a day. Definitely take breaks, but remember that you absolutely cannot afford to be losing momentum this week.

Get your sh*t together (literally). I use a combination of Dropbox (check out alternatives if you don’t like the thought of Condoleezza Rice hovering over your cloud storage), GoodReader, and lugging library books in an an 18-litre cycling backpack everywhere to make sure I have absolutely no excuse to not be writing no matter where I am. Few things are a stronger motivation to get your thesis done than an aching back.

Write. Just do it. I believe in you.

Keeping It Going

Feed your face. Caffeine is not our friend. Well okay maybe caffeine is your friend (it probably is, isn’t it) but it definitely isn’t mine. Caffeine heightens my anxiety considerably while taking me through unstable highs and terrible crashes, so I look to alternative ways of keeping my energy up:

As a general rule, avoid sugar, alcohol and fatty foods. Eat plenty of protein, slow-burning carbs, and iron-rich foods. Plan your meals and space them out. This is probably good advice for life in general, but let’s be real, you’re a student – you can have pizza next week, okay? You can have ten.

BUT NOT NOW via Shutterstock

BUT NOT NOW
via Shutterstock

Sleep well, but nevermind sleeping at the “right” times. You know what works best for you, and now’s not the best time to coax your sleep cycle into something that it’s not. I slept mainly from 5am to 2pm, only entering the school library after 10pm when everyone else was gone.

Musics! For college-themed aural pleasures (yeah I said it), can I recommend Maddie’s Surviving Finals, Rachel’s You Have So Much Grading To Do, and Intern Grace’s I’ve Got A Crush on Your Dumb Face? Oh, hey, I’m the only one here whose inappropriate feelings for unavailable women intensify as deadlines approach? Right. Well then. Moving along.

IT'S FOUCAULT'S HISTORY OF SEXUALITY THAT'S MAKING ME BLUSH, I SWEAR, NOT YOU via Shutterstock

IT’S FOUCAULT’S HISTORY OF SEXUALITY THAT’S MAKING ME BLUSH, I SWEAR, NOT YOU
via Shutterstock

Netfliiiiix. I’m not kidding. TV series – in this case, Orange is the New Black and Suits, plus Laura has plenty of suggestions to realise your inner couch potato – help me work through longer assignments because they’re an integral part of my self-reward system. (Sometimes when I say “reward” I really mean “binge indulgence,” but that’s okay. At least I put a bra on, right?)

Remember: you’re okay. The best advice I got was “you’re writing a dissertation, not changing the world.” Keep at it and it’s okay if things are less than perfect. Your brain is going to feel like it’s melting all the time and you will be so tired but also there’ll be those moments when you’ll really get it, like really get it, and you’re a smart, competent human who’s done so many smart, competent things and this will be just one more of those things. Not getting it right now? Take a step back and breathe. Curl up in bed for a while, or take a walk, or text your favourite human/s.

The second best advice I got was “THINK OF HOW GOOD IT’LL FEEL TO RETURN ALL THE LIBRARY BOOKS.” And it does, trust me. It feels so good.

The Final Stretch

Last 24 hours? Now forget everything I said earlier. Is there not coffee in your hand RIGHT NOW? Is it in your MOUTH yet? THERE IS NO WAY THAT IS ENOUGH CAFFEINE IN YOUR BLOODSTREAM. There’s no more food left in your flat except canned soup and Twisties and lol, “sleep.” You’re going to see through the sunset and sunrise but you’re not gonna see either of them because you’re not looking at anything except your computer screen for eight straight hours. Yes you are doing horrible things to your body. DON’T THINK ABOUT IT. The world impatiently awaits what you have to say about postmodernist thought in Korean variety shows, you special weirdo.

Crossing The Finish Line

YOU’RE A GODDAMN CHAMPION. Look at you, accomplished human! You did read the submission instructions at least thrice, right? Clicked the second button on Moodle? Yes? Okay good job. That one sticky bit in the third chapter is probably going to bug you for a bit, but don’t think about it anymore – it’s nothing a good TV marathon or 16 hours of sleep can’t fix.

Before you head off to rejoin the human world (or hang out with your cat all weekend, that’s cool too), consider donating to or volunteering with a related charity/activist group. I know this is a weird suggestion to make, but hear me out here: I’m gonna guess that a lot of you will be writing theses on social justice topics, and while academia is important, it’s not activism. In fact, it’s quite likely you’ll be building on the work of organisers who first lay the groundwork and who are still at it today. Like I said earlier, you’re writing a dissertation, not changing the world – but supporting groups who work towards the same world that you want to see is an important first step to bridging the academy and broader society.

Now go forth and celebrate, champ. You’ve earned it.


Autostraddle Kits is a series where we tell you all the stuff you need to be/do a thing you want to be/do. Lesbian Activist? Heartbreaking DJ? Wanton Sex Goddess? Food Historian? Sort of like if Amazon’s Listmania and Amazon’s “So You’d Like to Be A…” had a same-sex marriage and then had a baby. It’s like a playlist, but for all of your senses!

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Politiqueer, student and future cubicle drone-person fond of trees, bicycles, and strawberry sponge cake. Abuses en-dashes. Undecided about the Oxford comma. Follow her on Twitter or her occasionally updated blog.

Fikri has written 52 articles for us.

24 Comments

  1. Thumb up 7

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    “Oh, hey, I’m the only one here whose inappropriate feelings for unavailable women intensify as deadlines approach?”

    No, no you are not. See: two potential dating situations in my life after months of nooooooothing because this is the month in which I have to finally analyze my interviews and write my master’s thesis. Come on brain/heart/pants, let’s stop having all the feelings at the most inconvenient times!

    Also, as I read this I was eating some chocolate covered raisins and thinking about the fact that I would actually prefer a real meal, so thanks for the grocery shopping reminder and the rest of this kit.

  2. Thumb up 6

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    Oh god thank you every time I talk to my supervisor he “suggests” I restructure the whole damn thing, tearing my hair out.

    If you’ve seen the combination Courage Wolf/Calming Manatee mashup posts, those help too.

  3. Thumb up 1

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    My dissertation was actually about producing less oppressive rules for certain types of organisations to implement and now I have to persuade said organisations that they want too implement them so I feel all of this. I’ve been putting off stage two for almost a year because it scares me.

  4. Thumb up 9

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    “Oh, hey, I’m the only one here whose inappropriate feelings for unavailable women intensify as deadlines approach?”

    Nope. Definitely not.

    If you’re reading this, hot quiet patroller with a silver nose ring, thank you for giving me a reason to stay in the library and revise this last month. Drinks are on me if you wanna hang out now that exams are over?

  5. Thumb up 0

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    This is absurdly applicable to my life. My thesis is due on the tenth (and I have so much left to do). Now that I’ve caught up on all today’s AS article of course, I’m ready to keep myself off of the internet and be productive.

  6. Thumb up 4

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    Thank you so much for this, Fikri. As someone who is on the cusp of starting grad school with serious questions on if I could ever do a dissertation this gives me hope.

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    Yes! Yes! Yes! – academia is definitely not activism.

    Also sugar/caffeine is horrible for me, too.
    Something else I find is to stop overeating in general – its so tempting to binge even on non-junk-foods, like three bowls of quinoa or something, but then you get a total food coma and super grumpy and it throws you out of whack for the entire day.

  8. Thumb up 4

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    Writing papers in grad school would have been slightly less like slowly pulling strips of skin off my person if I had known about the existence of Written? Kitten!, which is a site that gives you a new picture of a kitten, puppy or bunny (your choice) for every 100/200/500/1000 words you write (also your choice).

    GENIUS!

  9. Thumb up 4

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    If you need clear deadlines to stop procrastinating talk to your supervisor and ask them to set one up for you a week (or two) before the real deadline. It’s not going to impact your grade if you don’t manage to finish on time, but you’ll be too embarrassed to show up empty handed so it *will* motivate you to start work early and finish most of it by their deadline.

    Generally, if you’re struggling with anything, ask your supervisor for help.

  10. Thumb up 0

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    I am a total last minuter, my brain won’t let me work any other way, plus structuring nightmares due to dyslexia mean that I have in the past used a scribe and paced about ranting at them for hours at a time over the couple of days they are available then painstakingly restructuring my rant into cogent sentences/paragraphs/chapters once it was typed out. However I recently discovered, whilst doing my final MA extended research precis of this year without any help, that approaching my big fat essays of doom as graphic design projects helped me order my thoughts better. As I study art I have to include images in the text and I found using text boxes rather than standard type and copy and paste for structuring my chapters was super helpful and less stressful…hope this helps someone.
    Agree 100% with food, Netflix and pantsfeelings situations. Although without tea I do not function so caffeine cannot be removed from my life. Plus who can resist salt and vinegar walkers.

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