A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
When I officially started to write my bachelor thesis in February, I told my friends that I’d love to do one of those writing retreats. In my imagination, that’s a tiny cabin with a cosy living room and no distractions. You could sit at the kitchen table with your notes spread out everywhere, and a cup of freshly brewed tea next to you. Motivation? Not an issue, after all, the thesis is your only source of entertainment (in my imagination that sounded significantly less depressing I have to say).
A few weeks into the Bachelor project, university closed and we were asked to self-isolate. Be careful what you wish for, right? After the initial shock, I thought that this could turn out to be the thesis-retreat I had envisioned. So I cleared out my desk, put on the kettle and hoped for as much productivity as possible. For the first couple of days, that worked out splendidly. Then, I learned that I can find literally anything to distract me from my thesis. Be it the empty fridge, the stack of papers that I could really sort through or the plants in my window: Everything was suddenly really interesting and definitely more urgent than my thesis.
So, the first lesson I learned was to keep some healthy variation in my life and staying physically active turned out to be a magical fix for everything. Not motivated? Go for a run first. Can’t focus? Take a walk through the fields. Bad mood? Another run.
You might say that this sounds like a lot of procrastination, and there’s definitely some truth to that. Nevertheless, it was a lot easier to stay productive throughout the day. And in the end, I accomplished more in less time. So far, so good.
It was about halfway through the thesis when our internet crashed. Let me tell you, if your thesis is heavily reliant on the Web of Science (and aren’t they all?), this is slightly suboptimal. Granted, we fixed it within a couple of days, but you develop a totally new appreciation for Leiden’s libraries. Even when they’re absolutely packed, the internet never fails you.
So in my experience, there are two major downsides to writing from home. Firstly, you don’t necessarily have ideal working conditions. You really need a stable internet connection and some peace and quiet. My place is really open with very thin walls, and even though my seven-year-old neighbour is absolutely adorable, some days I was ready to strangle him (five hours of loud TV can’t be good for him anyway). Then, there is the issue of peer-reviewing. I was honestly looking forward to working on my thesis with my friends: Sitting around a table in FSW, popping a question here and there and frowning over SPSS – just like all the other third-year students I observed throughout the last years. Sadly, that wasn’t really an option. We made sure to proofread each other’s thesis, but that was about it.
To summarize, there are definitely some pros and cons to writing your thesis during a lockdown. The overall conditions might not be ideal, but you also have significantly more time (after all, you can’t go to work or meet friends) and I have to say that this made a really big difference. Even though writing a thesis is a lot of work, time management became a lot easier and working on it was almost relaxing.
I hope that writing my master’s thesis will look a bit different – with more library time and more friends for moral support. Nevertheless, being on my own was a valuable lesson, which will surely benefit my work in the future.
How is your thesis going? Is staying at home a curse or a blessing for you? Let me know in the comments!