Last week I defended my master thesis and thus ended six years of studies… And what an amazing day it was! It was the culmination of a long thesis process full of obstacles to overcome and way too few weekends off. After the defense I realized that this was the absolute last time that I had to discuss my research ever again. It got me thinking… What did I learn from the process? And how can I utilize this in my future endeavors? This made me realize the magnitude of my new knowledge. Besides the theoretical and empirical understandings that I’ve acquired connected to my specific research, I’ve attained some pretty universal knowledge which all who have completed a thesis might recognize. I boiled down my new wisdom into a top 3 list, in my attempt to place some more importance on all the neglected theses that are written every year by students eager to graduate… And in all gratitude to my own dear thesis, thank you for all the lessons learned!
Lesson 1: There are NO absolutes
The most important thing that my thesis taught me is that there are no absolutes. This is true in research and in life. And this has nothing to do with being a constructionist. Even if you are a realist at heart and believe in an objective truth, you can never for sure state that you have the single, right answer to a problem. The reason for this is that human beings are flawed. We are subjected to cognitive biases and have imperfect knowledge and therefore will never be able to give a 100 % single, right answer to a problem. What we can do is to research a problem from different angles and give the best possible answer to it whilst acknowledging the flaws of our research. Moreover, knowledge is not static but dynamic and therefore we must stay open-minded to the complexity of reality and acknowledge new research that challenges current beliefs. Once we believed that the world was flat! We’ve come a long way since then and need to keep our minds open to new revelations that can shake our current views. Knowledge is ever evolving and it is our duty to contribute to it in order to create a better world for the coming generations.
So unless you want to flunk your exam, don’t say that your research is perfect at your defense. You should still be proud of your work but your inability to reflect on its limitations will not pay off…
Lesson 2: You can learn ANYTHING if you want to
When I decided on the topic for my research I realized that I couldn’t use most of the theoretical frameworks that I’ve attained throughout my studies to answer the research question. I therefore had to look for completely new frameworks to base my thesis on as well as find an interconnection of these, which previously did not exist. In the beginning this seemed as a huge, scary task because I had no clue on where and how to start. After achieving this however I realized that you can learn almost anything, if you want to. It requires time and effort, but it is manageable. Before research is done, no one knows anything anyway. So you are not any less skilled to initiate the research than anyone else. You just have to be bold enough to ask the questions that haven’t been asked and to take action against answering them. Attack your research question! When you’ve done this a couple of times you develop the skill of acquiring relevant, specific knowledge about something that you have absolutely no clue about and translate it into implementation. This is a skill that you for sure can utilize in your career. Don’t know how to solve a task? Google is the link between you and the answer on how to solve it. Set aside some time to do some exhaustive research and then set up some implementation tasks and then just start moving. You might fail a couple of times if you decide to take one something completely different than what you’re used to, but with a little eagerness you will do great!
Lesson 3: Politics are unavoidable
Thinking back, the toughest part of writing the thesis was actually not writing it. That was in fact the easiest part of the process. When all data is collected, the frameworks are known and the direction is set all you need is some good coffee and a lot of time with no disturbances to finish it. For me, the most difficult part was related to ‘thesis politics’. As part of the writing process I realized that there are a lot of different stakeholders with different interests who want a say in the finished product. These include your supervisor/s, thesis partner/s (if you aren’t writing solo), and your case study/ies. They all have a view on how to most optimally answer your research question. The key is to manage the different opinions so your solution reaches a sweet spot where everyone is happy (including you). This is really a time-consuming task. And in order to succeed with this, interpersonal skills are crucial. And interpersonal skills are crucial in anything you will ever do because politics are unavoidable…
What are your thoughts on my top 3 list? Do you have any other lessons that should be at the top?
Work and progress,