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I am a master's student in Germany. I am currently writing my thesis and am more or less done with it.

Last week, I wrote my Conclusions and Methodology, so the only things left are the Introduction and the Abstract. But I am not satisfied with my work at all. I do not think I serves any purpose and I do not even think it is worth anything. I am very stressed and anxious, and I am really thinking of not submitting at all. I want to do more work and more research but with only 3 weeks left b before the deadline (there is not much to do). I have pushed writing the Introduction for 3 days now. It is Wednesday and I was supposed to start writing it on Monday.

How do I get myself together and just get it done? 20 days left to the submission.

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    "I do not think I serves any purpose and I do not even think it is worth any thing." The purpose of a Master's thesis is to give you some training in whatever your chosen field is and to get you a Master's degree, which then enables you to do other things. I am not sure what other purpose you are imagining for the thesis. Are you by any chance comparing your thesis to research produced by mature, professional researchers with years of practice? Unless the thesis is truly extraordinary, chances that it will be read by anyone are minimal, so there is no point in fretting too much about it. Aug 9, 2023 at 17:05
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    Well I just so happened to read the paper of one of research associates in the department i am currently studying, and their research is incomparable with mine. I feel very shallow and weak somehow, especially knowing that he is going to be on part of my hearing committee. I do not even feel like i have the tools to defend myself against his knowledge. That is what is giving me all the stress.
    – Florian
    Aug 9, 2023 at 20:06
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    Have you talked to your advisors or professors ? Aug 9, 2023 at 20:09
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    You are still a student. You have not even finished your Master's degree yet. No-one expects your research output to match the output of more experienced researchers, and it would be non-sensical for you to expect this too. Aug 9, 2023 at 20:21
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    Might be worth reading about imposter syndrome since it seems like it might be contributing: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/11765/…
    – Bryan Krause
    Aug 9, 2023 at 20:51

8 Answers 8

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It is possible that your judgement of the value is flawed. After all, you probably know more about the topic than almost anyone else and so it seems to you, with your knowledge, to be less than it is.

I suggest that you talk to a couple of people. One is an advisor or other trusted faculty member. But the other is a counsellor, who can advise you on why your feelings at the moment might not match the reality of the situation. This is an issue similar to Imposter Syndrome actually, though directed at the work rather than yourself.

A counsellor is good for stress reduction also, I suspect.

You may just need to turn the remains work into a scheduling problem, wading through the swamp of it to reach the other side.

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    +1. Your university quite probably has professional services for exactly this kind of situation. Just act now, because they may not be able to meet with you immediately. Aug 9, 2023 at 15:37
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You are just a master student starting your path in research. From the way your question is worded, your expectations of what your work was supposed to be are extremely high (and probably unattainable). I would suggest you to talk with your advisor (the other person besides you that knows what your work is about), ask him what he thinks about the work you did and about your performance in the program. But, besides everything, try to fix a date where you sit and write what is remaining! For example, promise yourself that this Friday, at 15:00 hours, you will sit down in front your monitor and start writing. Fixing times like that helped me overcome the fear of a blank page. Even if what you write is not good enough, the next day you will not be confronted by a blank page, instead you will have a draft that can be modified. If the thoughts of not being good enough keep lurking you, remember that everybody face that kind of negative feelings.

From Emmy Noether's wikipedia page:

Under the supervision of Paul Gordan she wrote her dissertation, ""On Complete Systems of Invariants for Ternary Biquadratic Forms", (...) Although it had been well received, Noether later described her thesis and a number of subsequent similar papers she produced as "crap".

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    Poets also sometimes say their earlier work is crap, but it only indicates growth and the fact that you can and should do better with more experience.
    – Buffy
    Aug 9, 2023 at 19:16
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    Masters in Germany generally last 2 years just fyi. There are 1 year masters but generally only with a 4 year Bachelor which is uncommon
    – SirHawrk
    Aug 10, 2023 at 6:22
  • @SirHawrk thank you for telling me, I edited my answer accordingly.
    – Amelian
    Aug 10, 2023 at 14:21
  • +1 - (very) roughly speaking, as a student, one is still learning; first we learn to actually learn, then, for masters, how to write thesis, and finally, the PhD student is learning how to do real research and write articles that can be published in scientific journals. I suspect even most papers written as a PhD student are fairly insignificant, scientifically.
    – j4nd3r53n
    Aug 11, 2023 at 9:01
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It might sound stupid but here is something that just might work for you (everyone is different):

Go to a park (now the weather is also getting nicer again in Germany) with pen and paper, without laptop and start writing about your thesis like you would do for an introduction but also just notes or loosely connected thoughts you might have. The pace, environment is different than on a desk which could get you out of the routine that got you stuck at this point. Maybe you can even bring a friend with you and just talk about the thesis while making notes, a little back-and-forth to even further alter the setting that you are in.

Afterwards use your notes and form it into a proper introduction.

I do similar things when writing scientifically but also for songwriting: Just write something now, make it a proper text later. There is a chance that it might not work for you obviously but 20 days seems like plenty of time to write an abstract and introduction to fool around with some other method for one or two days.

Best of luck!

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    I have a variant of this "routine breaking" advice. I simply open a new document and write a vulgar draft, trying genuinely to explain what I did but not "dressing it nicely", allowing myself to lament and vent all my misgivings in the text. Perhaps this makes a 4 page document. A few days later I copy it back into the main document, giggle at the thought of leaving it all in, and begin deleting unprofessional bits. Most of it thus disappears but some of it will be salvageable, maybe 2 paragraphs. Often I'll then want to expand a bit. But even if I am fully demoralized, at least it now exists. Aug 11, 2023 at 5:04
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Try to relax. What you feel is pretty normal.

Most students think they have produced nothing but crap when they are about to hand in their thesis. That's a consequence of the stress you have had in the recent months.

I do not think I serves any purpose

It does. You will get your master's degree. That's the only purpose of a master thesis. Your supervisor will read it, grade it and put it onto a shelf in their office. And nobody will ever read it again. You do not have to hand in hundreds of pages of excellent scientific work. If you want that, continue with a doctorate.

I am really thinking of not submitting at all

Do not be afraid of a bad grade or a failure. At our university, theses usually fail if they are either too short or not handed in at all. As long as your thesis meets the formal requirements (e.g. number of pages) and does not completely miss the point, you will get a decent grade. If you do not submit it, you will fail, though. And believe me, that's not worth it.

Good luck!

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I felt similar when writing my master's thesis. I even expressed feelings of having wasted a bunch of time writing something that was so narrow and specific that I couldn't imagine anyone could ever benefit from it. My advisor shared that this is often the way with research. She likened each project to a single grain of sand. In researching, you are illuminating one particular grain of knowledge. Taken with all the other offerings of the rest of your field, we get a clearer and clearer picture of how things really are.

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I gave this advice to one of my friends, who finished his thesis, and thought it helpful:

  1. It's time to write, not read. Start writing what you can.
  2. You also will have a list of references and/or bibiliography, work on that.
  3. You likely will have figures, so work on them also.

Also, make a ring on a piece of paper, like a circular pie chart. Estimate the percentage that you are done and start filling in the circle, this will help motivate you.

Finally, you already have an "emergency thesis" in your mind that you will fall back on. Commit that to paper, you can improve it if need be.

Be in communication with your advisor, or if this isn't possible, a mentor that you trust. An "intelligent sounding board" is always useful.

Best wishes!

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    Also: don't get sidetracked into displacement activities. Now is /definitely/ not the time to- for example- redraw all your illustrations so that their metadata is compatible with PDF. Aug 10, 2023 at 12:01
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I do not even feel like I have the tools to defend myself against his knowledge. That is what is giving me all the stress.

That would make perfect sense... if your thesis was in the discipline of Defence Against the Dark Arts.

If someone on your committee will act like it was a confrontation or a battle, that doesn't make them fit for that duty. So, I sincerely hope that nobody during examination will be openly antagonistic and trying to belittle your work. That's not the way to act, and none of that would be your fault. If they only noticed problems with your work during the examination, they have missed their chance at being useful. That's also why it's important that you make sure the committe is acquainted with the current draft of your work, and that you get as much feedback as you can ahead of the examination. Even the strongest critique - should there be any need for that at all - can be delivered in a professional and courteous manner. Academic environment is also about teaching - that means bringing up successors into the field.

Being prepared for examination doesn't mean cramming. Rather it means knowing what to expect from the examiners by interacting with them previously, enough so that you can be fairly confident that they are familiar with your work, approach, style of presentation, etc. and seem comfortable with it. The examination should not have any surprises for you - not because you've re-read all the subject notes from the entire degree's worth of material one week prior, but because you have a feel for what the edxaminers care about, which of their interests may intersect with your work, and so on. It's more about the human side of things that having your mind full of facts.

Unfortunately, on the Master's examination of one of my peers there was an openly hostile examiner who for no good reason whatsoever tried to find everything wrong with the student's work only then in spite of being familiar with it ahead of time, and not really raising any objections earlier. In my opinion that is unproductive - never mind terribly stressful for everyone, and probably cringe-inducing in other, more level-headed examiners in the same room. This is bad behavior - being aware of it should at least help you understand that none of your work can justify that.

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Instead of looking for inspiration or motivation to get you going so that you are riding on a wave of enthusiasm or enjoying the task, forget about all of that and only consider what will happen if you do not submit your work, forget motivation or how meaningful it all is or the meaning of life at this moment, just consider what will happen if you simply blow it off and do not submit your final work.

Also remember, perfection is the enemy of all things good.

If you cannot find the energy to do something because you do not see any real meaning in the reward you will get, or you simply cannot summon the interest and attention span to focus on the task, change your focus to the consequences of not doing it instead. You are not cherry-picking the perfect existence at your leisure you are avoiding certain disaster that comes from inaction.

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