Writing a bachelor or master's thesis is quite a challenge. Medicine students Emma Coene and Frédéric Claerhoudt are experts by experience. Their thesis on a faster way to check the placement of a gavage in intensive care was awarded the Eos thesis prize last year. They are happy to share some tips to make your thesis a success too.
1. Choose your topic deliberately and read up on it beforehand
Frédéric: “A thesis often goes in different directions than you initially think. So first search around online and read up on the subject. These don't have to be the most specialised articles yet."
Emma: “In Medicine, we were given a list of 200 topics to choose from. Some of them are literature reviews, some are experimental research. We chose the latter, even though it is more work. Above all, choose something that you yourself find interesting."
Frédéric: “Also think about the practical side. For a thesis on biomedical research, you might spend whole days in the lab working with petri dishes. So don't opt for that if you don't like iit. Your thesis will require at least a year of your time, so you have to like working on it.”
2. Think out the structure before you start reading or writing
Emma: "Together with our supervisor, we first figured out the structure of our thesis down to the level of intertitles. Based on that, we gathered all the information and sources."
Frédéric: "That way, you can be sure you don't miss an interesting or important subsection of your topic. For the first two or three months, all we did was look up and sort literature. We made a list of articles and sorted them according to relevance. A good tip here is to keep track of your search method as well, so you can find out what work you have already done. That helps to avoid duplicating work afterwards or when in doubt whether you found all the sources."
3. Set yourself multiple and clear deadlines
Emma: "After figuring out the structure, we set ourselves intermediate deadlines. We also scheduled a lot of work during the holidays. That way, you are more at ease during the academic year when there are also classes and exams. A thesis always involves more work than you think, so start on time."
Frédéric: "We had a video call every three weeks to discuss our work. Those intermediate deadlines ensure that you really continue working and move forward. We also set our deadlines much tighter than necessary because there are always things that go wrong or take more time anyway. As a result, you have plenty of time at the end to have your thesis proofread."
4. Don't be afraid of your promotor
Emma: “"At the beginning we needed a lot of guidance and then we often visited our promotor. After that, we were able to proceed more on our own. At a subsequent stage during our tests at the hospital, she was again more up front to guide us. Don't be afraid to contact your promoter, they are there to help you."
Frédéric: "Also feel free to ask her or him questions if you don't know or understand something. It's normal to know less about the subject than them. They are, of course, the professors and they are often already working on the subject professionally."
5. Have your thesis proofread
Emma: "Be sure to have your thesis proofread by a third party. In my case, it was my sister. Sometimes you are too close to your work to notice any mistakes. Someone who does not know much about the subject can also say what is not clear."
Frédéric: "Scientific publications, however difficult the subject, must also be able to clearly convey a certain point. So it is indeed preferable to choose someone who does not know much about the subject. That way you know your thesis will be clear and understandable to someone who wants to read up. But it is also helpful for fluency of reading and word usage. For example, Emma pointed out to me that I used the same word very often."
Finished your thesis? Like Emma and Frédéric, submit your bachelor's or master's thesis for de Vlaamse Scriptieprijs. You stand a chance of winning press attention and prizes of up to €2,500!
Emma: "We didn't expect to win at all. But under the motto 'what you don't do is what you don't do', the Thesis Prize is an opportunity you have to seize. Our research has gained a lot of attention and reached more readers thanks to this competition, which has also given us opportunities."
Frédéric: "It was also just a learning and fun experience to participate in this prize. It allowed us to learn a lot about science communication and how to present your research to an audience. You can also grow personally through it."
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