Why write a thesis

Megan Megan / Auckland campusLeave a Comment

I never thought I would be the research type. I had planned on finishing my University education at postgraduate diploma level and launch into the working world from there. As plans go, it possibly erred too much on the optimistically vague side, but postgraduate diploma felt like the natural apex to my (overly long and winding) career in higher education. I knew assignments, I knew exams, and all I knew of research was I didn’t want to do it. Not in psychology. The picking apart of people’s lives into categories and themes and vaguely predictive numbers, what was the point in that? What could I possibly be adding to the world?

Also, it meant that you talk to people. I hate that.

Two of my classes required me to write a research proposal, and I decided to write them as if I meant to conduct the research I was proposing. As mere assignments, I could pick any topic in that specialty area and take it wherever I felt it wanted to go. As long as it was viable financially and within the given time frame, I was metaphorical boss lady.

And that was the start of a change of mind, the first small match lit in the desire to write a thesis after all. For years I had learned about the things other people decided I needed to know, read their textbooks, completed their assignments. The increase in autonomy was accompanied by an increase in curiosity. I followed possibility and connection through the labyrinth of other people’s research, ideas, theories, until I found a space where my own interests met a gap in the research. There, I planted my flag and declared sovereignty. Or at least, submitted an assignment with the hope it would spark someone else’s interest too.

Thank god, yes, or the story may have ended there.

My current supervisors ran one of those classes and they were interested in the proposed research too. We met, developed the ideas, I read far too many research articles, we met again, stretched creative boundaroes, I wrote far too many words, we met again, the thesis was submitted. Easy as that.

Or not. And it’s the not that made the whole process worthwhile. It’s a long, somewhat lonely, and difficult thing to accomplish, this thesis writing schtick. In the beginning it seems like a labyrinth of too much information, too little knowledge of how to actually do research, too many possible interpretations of the data, too few days in which to pull everything together. I got very used to going to bed at ungodly hours, and living with articles and books strewn around my house, and to the perpetual feeling that I had absolutely no idea what on earth I was doing.

Then slowly I did. A little. And maybe no-one else had made the connections in my subject area in quite the way I had. And maybe I was making a contribution to knowledge I believed in, because I was conducting research I believed in. And maybe I was making a contribution to developing innovative research methods, because I was conducting research in a way I believed in. And maybe I was doing more than research, maybe I was learning about the kind of person I was, and the kinds of things I felt passionate about. And maybe I really liked meeting that person. For sure she had some half decent reserves of persistence and stamina she could be proud of.

If I time travelled back to the me who thought she would hate writing a thesis and had to convince her it was a good idea after all, that is what I would tell her. You’ll learn interesting things, for sure. And in sticking with the process, in keeping going through the obstacles, through the mess, through the uncertainty, you will find a deep level of satisfaction that you were able to reach the finish line that no-one can take from you. Whatever else happens, you accomplished this wonderful, difficult thing, and you did it in your own peculiar way. A revelation even, one might say, if one were to get a little too carried away.

I have a theory I made up right now, that any difficult task we choose for ourselves, and which requires persistence and commitment, can have this kind of effect, can harbour the possibility for developing a true sense of efficacy. I don’t know if it’s true, but it’s nice metaphor and it was my experience, and that will do me just fine.

Though, next time I might try doing all that on way more sleep. Rumours are this could be a great improvement.



Megan is a full-time graduate student in Psychology, who is currently trying to write her Master’s thesis in between the absurd amount of time she spends driving her teenage children places. She has studied with Massey University for more years than she cares to remember, and credits her education for teaching her to persist in the face of overwhelming doubt. Megan plans to carry her studies through to doctoral level, and hopes one day to return to such mythical activities as socialising with friends and reading books for sheer pleasure.