A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
OK, so I don’t know if I’m breaking trade secrecy laws here, but I thought I’d take the time out to describe how I’ve gone about finishing a thesis in Leiden, which, all things going smoothly, I will have the honour of completing very soon. Obviously the way I have worked does not go for everyone; in each person’s study program there will be differences in schedules, due dates, and interactions with professors and supervisors. I was lucky to have a supportive professor and a group of classmates to push me along the way, but even better than that was a coordinated system of study hours that, nerdy as it made me feel, kept me and my two compatriots Robyn and Yuri on track… like a bosses. For us, the biggest help in getting our theses written before the end of summer can be summed up in one rather evil-sounding word: ‘regime’.
Yes, it’s as hardcore as it sounds. Regime is effectively the result of a contract the three of us drew up (NB. some people may not have been involved in this process :p) which, as in all good contracts, regulated our study hours by offering both a carrot and a stick. The contract, which we signed at the beginning of May, would test the limits of our student livelihoods and indeed our humanity, but we knew in the end it would be worth it to get our theses finished sooner rather than later. The key components were to get up early (I know you’re hating this already), get to the library at 8.30am (yes, it is humanly possible), and start our research then and there (because apparently the first two hours of the day are the best for study). Each signatory would be working towards pre-determined goals for each work-week (ie. write first chapter, fully source and rewrite first chapter etc.), and they would be trusted to complete them by week’s end. This would continue each weekday until each signatory had finished the written component of his or her thesis. No get-outs, no excuses, and of course, repercussions for those who defaulted on their weekly goals.
The beauty and terror of regime has been that in addition to the obvious positive reinforcement of getting the work done on time, there was a harsh form of negative reinforcement that, as students, we knew we would really really dislike. Yes, my friends, as damning as it is for our moral compasses here at the Leidener, perhaps the two things that motivated us more than anything were the dual student nightmares of not having either money and/or alcohol when regime goals were submitted and assessed each Friday night. The most relevant clauses of the contract named the penalties accrued in the event of a default on weekly goals. These were:
As you can imagine, with such harsh penalties which would devastate our student needs for beer and in some cases the capacity to feed ourselves for the following week, the ‘regime’ contract made us work extremely hard. In most weeks in fact, all three of us were so scared of defaulting that we got our weekly goals completed BEFORE schedule. But did anyone actually have to pay up? Well… yes… I am sad to say that I was in fact the only one to default a week’s goals, but my friends were lenient, and I got off lightly with just one extra round for both of them.
So, in the space of a month where did this little social experiment lead us? Put bluntly, exactly where we wanted it to. All the signatories have made it to first draft, and Yuri, who should be congratulated and perhaps worshipped, has already finished his whole thesis and is now waiting for his defense in a variety of bier cafes around town! This, my friends, must be the ultimate carrot to chase; wondering what to do with all that spare time while sipping golden brews in the sun… In fact, readers, if you’re bored, go and have a chat to Yuri, just make sure it’s got nothing to do with a) thesis topics and b) early mornings. But I digress, all-in-all regime made us knuckle down with our closest friends and put trust in our ability to achieve a level of discipline based on real and tangible motivations, not assumed ones. At the end of the day we all learned something, and we seem to have learned it quickly enough that we may get to enjoy summer yet!
Whichever way helps you reach your thesis goals is the best for you, and this is just one of many ways to get there. It might not be the easiest way for some, or the most morally sound, but it seemed to work for the gallant trio of Leideners here related. For anyone struggling, we know you’ll get there in your way, and looking back your struggle will all be worthwhile, an achievement that will last a lifetime. Regardless of your method, good luck in the coming months and give it all you’ve got!