Start of the Thesis Writing Process … pg 1, v.00

After months and months of waiting for a break, busying myself with papers, course work, thesis, and doing other fun grad student activities, I found myself flying home on Christmas Eve. It had been way too long since the last time I rolled around the house in PJs all day, ate belly full of food every meal, and slept in every morning.

But the truth is, although I’ve been craving such a break for months, it didn’t take me too long before I start to miss the packed to-do lists, deadlines marked and highlighted on the calendar,  and the quiet sound of the machines humming away in the lab that magically boosts the effects of coffee. Signs of a workaholic? Maybe. But I don’t think it’s (that) bad for you.

After two days of eating lots, being pampered by my family, and resting my brain with various sources of entertainment, I decided that it’s time to get some work done.

On the third day, I attempted to work from home – it never works well, and didn’t work well this time until every member of my family had gone to bed. Upon the continuation of unsatisfactory productivity levels at home, I now find myself at a small coffee shop in the small city of Guelph, Ontario. And, to my surprise, the first thing that I wanted to do was ….

… to start writing my thesis.

‘Wow’, I thought to myself, ‘I am actually starting to write my thesis!’.

I did want to follow the recommendations from my supervisors and start writing it early on. But with immediate deadlines and higher priority tasks on the to-do list, the writing process never got started, until now.

There seems to be a few things to keep in mind before and during the thesis writing process.

First, there’s pages and pages of ‘thesis formatting’ related information on the Faculty of Graduate Studies (FoGS) website. They’re very helpful, but also very long. It covers stuff from the font type, to font size, to font colour… i.e., detailed.

There’s sixteen different things that need to appear in the proper order of the completed thesis. A huge list of references will have to be put together in a proper order and format – which can be more than just painful if you don’t already use helpful reference management software such as Mendeley(freeware) and RefWorks(free for UBC students).

With all these formatting requirements in mind, I am first tempted to write the thesis in LaTex. The FoGS website provides a handy dandy LaTeX files you can use to automatically format the thesis to FoGS’ satisfaction. And with the help of references that can be put in the .bib format, you don’t need to worry about cleaning up tens (hopefully not hundreds?) of references in the final thesis later. In addition, if you’ve already published or written papers for conferences or journals in LaTeX, integrating the contents (including figures, tables, and references) into the thesis is just a matter of copy and paste; and the formatting will be taken care of.

But LaTeX writing is not so good for getting feedback from your supervisors and having them track changes – which Word does a pretty good job of. Is there a Word template for UBC thesis? Not that I know of. But that would be pretty helpful for non-LaTeX users, eh?

So I’ve decided to ignore the formatting requirements for now, write each chapter separately in MS Word, get feedback on the contents from my supervisors with the convenient track-changes features in MS Word, and then convert it into LaTex chapter by chapter for easier formatting of the overall thesis.

I will have to check the Vista website later though (currently out of service due to maintenance) and check out if there’s any helpful info on thesis writing from the Mech Eng Department.

Meanwhile, here’s an appropriate phD comics on the very topic….

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