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Gordon DesBrisay, History Faculty

Graduate Thesis

Do you have any advice for a Grad student who is struggling with writing his or her thesis?

Don't, as I guess with anybody struggling with writing, don't beat yourself up because you think this should be easy, or that it appears easy to other people. Maybe they go through the tortures of the damned backstage, or maybe somehow it isn't that hard for them, but it is for a great many of us, so the fact that it's difficult is not a problem, but you... At some point, we all have to break through that barrier and start putting things down on paper. I think that the temptation is to just keep doing research and keep reading and thinking that that next thing around the corner will explain everything. I think you have to keep continually taking stock and realizing where you are and what you need to do to get things down. It's not the final word. And understand that it'll change and that writing is rewriting. Until you get it down there can't be any positive intervention. This took me a long time to learn this, as a Grad student, because I seemed incapable of producing a draft of anything. I really crafted these things, slaved over them. It took me ages, but when I finally got to the end of what I was saying, it was finished as far as I was concerned. There was no opportunity for supervisors to intervene and help me at an earlier stage. And you can't...It's hard to help somebody until they have it on paper. Then you've got something to work with and talk about. So you've got to start getting it on paper, and not be afraid of it. Hopefully, if you've got an easy relationship with your supervisor, [you can] talk to them about it and be willing to ask them if they're willing to read pretty rough drafts of your outline.