Doing a master’s degree, for me, was not for adding a title next to my name. It was because I wanted to learn more and further develop myself and skills. It was a life changing experience. Some of the skills I acquired were: to respond to pressure and perform well under it, to be a life-long learner, to develop my writing and research skills and working in a team. I was lucky to work with a group of people who inspired and supported me during and after my master’s degree studies. This group included my professors and supervisors plus classmates and colleagues. Roadblocks and opportunities were present almost every day, as along with disappointments and of course my enthusiasm. My first supervisor Marios Goudas (a life-long friend now) and I will attempt to share with you some of the experiences we had during our master’s degree studies, as students first and as professors/supervisors later. The material that follows is an extract from a book we hope to publish soon (in Greek language) as a guide to masters students. We hope you will find yourself somewhere in the lines below. Read away, take advantage of the tips we offer, enjoy your studies and smile!
The classmates factor…
During your studies you will meet new people that may become friends for life. Well, maybe not all of them, but most of them for sure. Try to bond with those that fit your style and try to form a mutual support group. These characters can often be highly motivated and make you feel like you are never doing enough. If you have classmates like these do not get upset with them, just go on and smile!
Tip: Develop your support group!
Start from the very first days of your studies. The time and energy you will spend on developing a support group will pay you back later. Find members for your support group among your classmates, friends, and family. Think of people who may benefit from supporting you. E.g.: you are more familiar with software that all group members need; spend some time teaching them the basics and in return you may ask for some of their time commenting on an assignment draft. Another example is from some students who all have families with young kids: you may organize to do babysitting in turns while some of you attend a library study group and then share the work done with the babysitter of the day. Creating a group blog is another idea of group support during your studies. The key rule in this group sharing is “Send something useful.” It could be a suggestion for a newly published article, a book title or anything that the group members would find useful. Inviting to your group older students from the same program as members is another good idea. They can be extremely helpful as they have the accumulated valuable experience over the program, while at the same time your group can be of some assistance to them e.g., by helping them collect data for their research (a procedure that soon you will also go through) or acting as second coders in a qualitative project. This way you are building a relationship of mutual support. There will always be individuals who might not be very supportive and less open to sharing than you are, but for sure it is worth taking the risk.
The thesis topic factor…
Have you lately (a) been more irritated than usual? (b) caught yourself daydreaming often? (c) been in a coffee shop with the printout of an article in your bag? (d) wished the day had more than 24 hours? (e) wondered what is worthy in your life? If yes, then you are probably under the pressure of choosing your thesis topic! As you read, think through and brainstorm with others, you shape an idea of what is worth working on and of what interests you. But how to choose a topic? Start by answering yourself the following questions: What are my interests? What kind of research do I want to do and in which area? What are my future goals?
Initially, identify your area of interest and not the topic of interest. You may link your thesis area of interest to your “past”, “future” or “present”, or any combination of the three experiences and of course aspirations. None of these options are better than others, they are just different options. Following, to get closer to your thesis topic you need to read, read, read and then discuss what you have read with experts in the field and significant others. After deciding on broad subject area read more and research thoroughly the subject area. Soon you will narrow things down and have a few ideas for a thesis topic. Your supervisor can then help you narrow it further if you run into a dead end. Being organized is a “key” to the entire thesis process. So get organized early on, as it will also help you manage your stress level. In the process of pinpointing a thesis topic, use the material from your coursework, such as texts, notes and papers, ask for advice from your instructors and supervisor/s. Locate available resources within your school and local libraries and do not underestimate your own knowledge - you have studied hard through the years and have learned a great deal. Do not hesitate, take the risk and show your first draft proposal to your supervisor and colleagues for feedback. No matter what, never forget to smile!
What can go wrong?
- If you think of something innovative, soon you will find out that someone else has already done it!
- If you believe what you are thinking about is important, your supervisor will have another opinion!
- If you think of something and then abandon it for another topic, someone else will do it, publish it and manage to fund it (Murphy’s’ law in research)!
The writing factor…
Developing your writing skills is essential. It is difficult but worth working on this skill. To achieve it you have to practice a lot. The more you write, the better you get. Here are some ways to improve your writing skills: engage yourself in (a) free non-critical writing, (b) outlining of paragraphs, (c) developing one main statement and free writing after that, (d) telling stories in writing, (e) developing a mind map. No matter what is your way of writing, remember that: “scripta manent.”
- Show your work to other people (e.g., your support group) and ask for their input.
- Finish it, set it aside, then get back to it the next day or week with a fresher mind and perspective.
- Read similar works of others (do not copy it though).
- Ask/search how to develop your writing skills.
- Work on one section per time.
- Before you close your computer file make a note to yourself on how to continue when you re-open it next time. It saves a lot of time and helps you proceed smoothly.
- Do not criticize what you write when you are writing, leave the judgment for later.
- Read out loud what you write. Possibly, audio-record it. Listen to it; does it make sense to you?
5 tips for writing your thesis
- Write the introduction at the end.
- Write the main points first (scope of study and methods).
- Use short sentences.
- Write short abstracts and then extend those.
- Hey! There are other good things in life to do when you get to a writer’s block!
What can go wrong?
You are almost done with your thesis draft and your computer breaks down! You realise that your last back up was 1 month ago… Try to smile! Instead of a disaster, see an opportunity to make it better!
Remember: “There are 2 kinds of theses: The good ones and the finished ones” (Anonymous)
The supervisor-student interaction factor
Just like students are in search for the ideal supervisor, supervisors also are looking for the ideal student! Here are some characteristics that form the ideal student and supervisor according to statements from both groups:
The ideal supervisor
- Has several publications on your topic of interest.
- Has a good percentage of master students who finished their theses.
- Has similar ways/views with you on how to work together.
- Has a deep understanding on students’ issues.
- Has a tight guiding style with strict deadlines or has a loose inspiring style with no limits (depends on your preferences).
- Smiles a lot!
The ideal student
- Has a good proposal for the thesis in writing.
- Is already a magician in statistics (or other research methods).
- Knows how to write research (not a fictional novel).
- Is cooperative and takes initiative.
- Does not go on vacation in no-man’s land before s/he finishes the required work.
- Knows more on the topic than his/her supervisor.
- Smiles a lot!
The ultimate happiness for professors is to feel proud of their students, while the ultimate happiness for students is to be proud of the work completed. So, let’s all be happy and smile!
The authors would like to thank Stiliani “Ani” Chroni for commenting on the draft of this article.
Hassandra Mary is currently a senior lecturer at the University of Jyväskylä, teaching for the European Masters in Sport and Exercise Psychology Program. Before 2011 she was teaching at the Department of Physical Education and Sport Science, University of Thessaly, Greece. Her research areas include physical activity promotion, motivation, physical education & health programs.
Goudas Marios is a professor of Psychology of Physical Education teaching at the Department of Physical Education and Sport Science, University of Thessaly, Greece. His research focus on life skills programs in physical education and sport.