Recently I had a bit of a minor heart attack when I realised my hand in date for my thesis is March 30th 2019. This may seem like a long way away,  but what panicked me more was that my funding ends September 28th 2018…and today is 5th March 2017.

Yes, I have crossed the near half way mark of my PhD but lots of things haven’t worked.

This little panic was actually quite good for me I think. As I recently went on a training course about ‘Formatting your thesis’, which I didn’t think would be highly relevant until a few months before my thesis is due, but, after this panic, I decided to start getting towards a format of my thesis i.e. jut the contents page for now:

It’s a start: vague introduction titles and methods section.


So after an hour or two last weekend, I have been able to write in almost 90% of my methods and details as well as at least put some titles in for the methods I haven’t done yet. Lots of the techniques I’ve used, have all been the same (cloning, restriction digest, PCR etc etc), so have been able to write them all in.

Currently, I’m on ~2,000 words, including all the chapter titles (it sounds like lots, but really isn’t). After writing up lots of methods from papers and my lab book, I had a look over and realised, “Holy shit, i’ve done a lot”. As previously, I’ve worried that I don’t have enough data so far (mainly as things haven’t worked), but being able to write down 90% of my methods and see what I’ve done has given me a bit of a moral boost.

Not all of my data is in anyway unpublishable in a PhD thesis, as I could easily write “I did method X, but that didn’t work, so I tried method Y, but that didn’t work, so I tried method Z” with the experimental data, but I would ideally like to write “I used method A” and show a nice clean gel/image etc. But after writing in all my methods, excluding  a lot that didn’t work, I believe I have a fair chunk. As well as this, a lot of data is from computational/bioinformatics work I did at the beginning of my PhD for the first 3 months, here I generated a MASSIVE amount of data, but never think to include it in my ‘data so far’. Hence, everytime I go back to writing methods, I remember some other computational work I did that I can include…win win!

Writing methods has helped, but I also have planned out the next few months of lab work. I remember a while back that someone on twitter used a chart on excel to map thesis writing (turns out it was Sam Rowe (@samfrowe) who used a really cool Gantt chart). I decided to copy the idea and apply it to lab work:

My Gantt chart for the year so far…

This worked really well for planning what experiments I need to be done by when. So far, I’m pretty much on target (except for protein purification as it’s being a dick).

So in all, writing out methods (and even some early data) and having a target date to get things done (using the Gantt chart) has helped me. I’m not as stressed as I was (not sure if that’s a good or bad thing…?) and now feel I’m way more productive when in the lab.

My advice to anyone else nearing the halfway mark, have a plan (gantt chart, writing objectives etc) and write some methods or even introduction, even if it’s only a few hundred words, it’ll help…plus, it means you don’t have to write so many when it comes to actual thesis writing time!