Biophysical Society Bulletin | July-August 2022

Career Development

WritingYour Thesis: Some Inspiration forGettingStarted Are you a graduate student approach ing graduation and needing to tackle your thesis? Are you stuck on what to write and where to start? Have you gotten some unhelpful advice such as “just write”? Here are some tips for making what can seem like a daunting proposition more manageable. First, take a deep breath and realize results should detail what the figure is showing using words. Imagine that you are describing the figure to someone who is driving, so they cannot take their eyes off the road. How would you describe it? What is the most important part they need to hear to understand the significance of the results in the figure? Whatever answers those questions is what you should write. The discussion should put the results of the fig ures into the context of the literature and the larger scientific body of knowledge. How does it relate to prior works? How does it extend the field? What is missing to support or knock down a model or theory?

that you are not alone in this quest to put word to paper. Whether it is your first publication or your thesis (or an advice column!), it can be hard to get your words out of your head and onto the page. Here are a few useful tips; hopefully, some of these will work for you. You should realize that your thesis is your book. You can make it what you want, written for whom you want, in the style that you want. This is especially true if you have already published a peer-reviewed paper or two. Consider writing the introduction chapter so that it is accessible to a new grad student who might be coming into your lab after you finish. What do they need to know to understand the project and how to follow up? Alternatively, you can write your book for an expert, but do make sure you define any jargon or abbreviations the first time you use them! If you have given a talk on your research, you have had to give the audience an introduction. That is a great place to start with your introduction chapter. Hopefully your talk’s introduction gave background information, dis cussed the significance of the questions you were pursuing, and gave scientific context for the work with the use of imag es. Use that as a starting point. Again, if you have already published a paper or two, these can be updated to insert as chapters in the thesis. If you have not, I recommend starting by making the figures you think you need to tell the story for each chapter. The figures can be multi-panel or single images. The figures for each chapter should tell the story of how you did the work outlining the methods used, showing raw data, how the data was quanti fied and analyzed, and the results. Once you think you have the figures made, use them to write long captions that describe the methods, the results, and some discussion about each figure. The writing of these

When you have these long captions written for each figure, you can use those words to create the methods section, the results section, and the discussion section for your chapter. Don’t forget to re-write the real figure captions, which should be shorter, like you would read in a Biophysical Journal article. I recommend writing the introduction paragraphs to the chap ters last—after you have the other parts written. If you have a truly bad case of writer’s block, try to get out of your own head and lower your inhibitions. Listen to a song that pumps you up and makes you feel amazing. Another trick is to try for volume. In your first drafting, do not try to be perfect or even good, just get words out on the page. As much as you can. Pretend you are going to print it and weigh it, and you will only pass your defense if it weighs 50 kg. I repeat: it doesn’t need to be perfect! It just needs to be there. You and your advisor can wade, rip, or shred through it to make it bet ter, but you need to have a draft to edit. Don’t be afraid to red mark it after that first draft. It might literally look like it went through a meat grinder, but it is easier to cut than to create. Finally, logistically, your graduate school will have a specific guideline for the format of the thesis. I recommend finding a template for either Word or LaTex for your thesis from anoth er student. Most programs have templates that students use floating around. Just ask! Importantly, remember that you can do this! This is your work. No one else really knows all the work, blood, sweat, and tears that went into getting this data. This is your chance to explain it all in glorious detail. You’ve got this—because you did it already! — Molly Cule

July-August 2022



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