Student perspective: Beating burnout in the final stages of dissertation writing

Jasmin in Royal Fort Gardens holding a printed dissertationby Jasmin Rahman, Cellular and Molecular Medicine student and Bristol Futures Advocate

Perhaps you started working on your dissertation months ago, maybe you started a few weeks ago. Regardless one of the most universal experiences whilst writing your dissertation is the frustration when you’re almost done, yet it still doesn’t ever feel truly finished. The last 2 weeks in February before I submitted my dissertation were so difficult as I felt like the 3 years of my degree culminated in a pretty average dissertation (this wasn’t true!).

During that slump of being unhappy with my progress, I figured out some quick fixes to stay motivated during the last stages of dissertation writing:

1. Track your progress

One of the main things me and my coursemates complained about was how we felt like we were working so hard on editing our dissertation everyday, yet we weren’t making any progress and it always looked exactly the same. But logically this was never true!

Tracking your progress, whether it’s downloading a printable progress tracker from the internet or simply saving a copy of your dissertation from a few days ago can be a practical way to beat the feelings of frustration that nothing is changing.

2. Avoid obsessing over details

For me, obsessing over the tiny details like perfecting my sub-headings was a really convenient excuse to avoid editing the harder sections of my dissertation. Although that definitely isn’t the case for everyone, if you find yourself obsessing for hours over a single sentence – it could be an indication to move on or take a break. My editing process sometimes involved cutting down entire paragraphs, critically considering what your sentence actually adds to the dissertation or sub-section as a whole can be useful in helping to take an evaluative approach whilst editing.

3. Take breaks and time to celebrate accomplishments

It’s definitely a cliché, especially whilst surrounded by friends and coursemates in a similar caffeine-driven push to cross the dissertation finish line. However, that state of complete fixation on finally finishing and the relief you’ll feel when it’s all over is definitely not worth compromising your health! Sometimes taking breaks and time to celebrate your accomplishments (however small) can be very useful in allowing you to come back to your dissertation with fresh eyes – especially useful whilst writing your reflections in the discussion section. So no matter if it’s only an hour break, burnout during dissertation writing is both very common and unfortunately very difficult to bounce back from. So taking some time to ensure your mental wellbeing before your hand-in deadline is both better for your dissertation quality and yourself in the long-term.

I hope this post was helpful and good luck to everyone still writing and congratulations once you hand in – you should all be very proud as it’s such a big achievement!

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