Getting back to my “thesis world”: steps for starting again to work on your thesis

Two years ago I had to pause my thesis program due to a surgery. Together with the recovery period it took me two months before getting back to work and it was really hard to for me to get back in my “thesis world”.

Let me explain what I mean by “thesis world”. 🙂

After a time period that I am working concentrated on my thesis, I feel like I am really “inside” my research. It is like living in another world, a parallel world, something distinct from the world I live with other people.

Nevertheless if for some days I stop working on my thesis and do things totally different, then it is really hard for me to have a good rhythm in working and to get back in my “thesis world”. It’s like I forget my own research! The first days I work back it’s like reading some kind of alien language!!! Usually, after some days I find myself again, and gradually I get back to my “thesis world”.

The surgery and the recovery period have kept me months for working. Furthermore, during this period I experienced totally different worries than usual when working on thesis. When you are around 30 and you’re stressed to finish your PhD, usually you are concerned only about your thesis and this is the most important thing for you.

The health problem I experienced remind me that there are other things more important that the PhD. Health!!! And it is true what they say: “You appreciate something only when you lose it”.

The reason I’m mentioning all these is because after this whole experience with recovery etc, when I was physical ready to get back to work I realize that I wasn’t emotionally.

The long period of not working and the feeling of alienation from my own research made me to doubt about my ability to write my thesis, to finish my research. I was separated from my own research and when I was reading my data (interviews I have conducted)…. I just couldn’t… I couldn’t connect myself with my own research! I was feeling that it is impossible to get back to my thesis…

Some day while surfing on the web I saw this quote:

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Mark Twain

The quote felt like hitting me on the face. I was staring at it and realizing that it was my fear that was keeping me from my own research, not my abilities.

When I discussed it with my boyfriend, he mentioned that he has read about a research in which they have put some students to write down they fears and insecurities they felt before giving an exam, while some others students didn’t. They saw that students who have written they fears they did better on their exams!

This might be due to the fact that they sat down and they put themselves in a process of thinking and realizing their unconscious fears and insecurities, which they “simplified” as stress.

It is different to think “I am feeling stressed” and a different thing to realize which exactly are yours fears. Because then you are able to deal with them.

So, I took the advice, open an empty Word and start writing honestly about my fears, worries and insecurities.

And it really helped me! While I was reading my written fears I realized how silly I was because I left them to keep me back. When you see written yours fears then you realize that it is not hard to get over them. You realize that “ok, I feel insecure about these things but why I let them to control me?” It was by fears that kept me, not my abilities.

And then I saw again (my favorite since then) quote:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Mark Twain

So I start thinking: “20 years from now I could be more disappointed if I will not finish my thesis, rather than if I will not do the good thesis I was dreaming”.

So, I let my self go, I throw off the bowlines and I started working on my thesis acknowledging that I am not doing a perfect work on it but also reminding to my self that “this is what I can do for now, and during time I will make it even better”.

I realize now that at that time I was hard on myself. I had experienced a difficult surgery and recovery period but at the same time I was thinking that this doesn’t matter and I must go back to my thesis world working just like before, like nothing happened.

But things are not working this way… We are not robots; we are not machines to work perfectly under any conditions.

Unfortunately the trend or the message of our epoch is: “do more, work more, and push yourself to go over your limits”.

But I am wondering…why?

Why should I teach myself to get over my limits? Why should I be happy if I push myself to work more than my body can support?

What I win? I am the better “living robot”???  What I “win” is psychosomatic expressions of stress, and possibly future health problems.

Recently I read in a blog of an academic, Tanya Maria Golash-Boza ( a very interesting post, which made me feel really nice because I saw that there other people who think in the same way: Getting it done in 40 hours: How expectations that junior faculty should work 80 hours a week normalizes being over-worked


So, when you are trying to go back to your “thesis land” or “paper land” (or whatever that is) and you are facing difficulties, I suggest to:

1) Write down your fears, your insecurities because our fears are the ones that are keeping us back, not our abilities.

Express in paper your feelings. It will make you free from those and you will see that they are more manageable that you think.

2) Don’t be harsh on yourself, but acknowledge that it is not easy to get back to your “thesis/paper/book world”. Acknowledge that you are not a perfect machine, but you are a human being. Love yourself for what you are, not for what you want to be.

3) Don’t forget! :  “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Mark Twain

What are your tips for getting back to your “thesis world”? How do you experience it?




Filed under Developing as a researcher, Emotional difficulties

4 responses to “Getting back to my “thesis world”: steps for starting again to work on your thesis

  1. 1 Year Recovery

    Great post. This really resonated with me. Currently I’m struggling to write my thesis (graduate) and balance a social life. I’m an extrovert and I find that my research really does throw me into a parallel universe and when I come back to reality, I forget how to get back into that universe. Frankly, sometimes I don’t want to get back into that universe – because it feels lonely and stressful. I’m going to take your advice and write down my fears and see if that will help me uncover any subconscious hindrances. Thanks again, I look forward to reading more of your writing!

  2. Thanks for your comment! It is nice to see that I am not the only one who feels that I live in a parallel world when working on my thesis!
    I understand what you say about feeling lonely and stressful. Sometimes when I am really deep on my parallel universe/thesis I find it difficult to communicate with other people because my mind is on totally different things that others can not understand.

    I checked your blog and I must say that I really admire you! You have been through really tough times, so don’t be hard on yourself. What I experienced from my health journey is that it affected me also in my work. When I didn’t want to see it and accept it, I felt more pressured because I was pushing myself to be like before the surgery. The thing is that things are happening in our lives; we are affected from those, so we must be gently with ourselves.

    Don’t think “I didn’t do that”. Think “Tomorrow I will do it”. Don’t punish yourself; love yourself for what you are, not for what you do.

    I’m sure that you will find your way to start working on your thesis. You are a winner in life and so you will be in your thesis!

  3. I found this link through the comments on another blog and was intrigued to read it. Having done a thesis (for an undergraduate degree mind you) I can definitely understand how it can feel to be alienated from your work; or how it can alienate you from everyone else due to the necessary work for completion. Lately, I find it even more disconcerting when I’ve left one of my ‘fantasy’ realms for some time. I tend to write more fantasy/adventure works and if I leave the world alone for too long (for whatever reason at the time), the characters and the realm I created becomes more foreign. I have to wonder if your suggestion to write down my fears would help in this instance too. I shall have to give it a shot. Thank you for sharing. 🙂

  4. Thanks for the comment and for stopping by! I’m happy that you like my post! I hope my suggestion for writing down your fears, will help you to face and manage them.
    Let me know how it goes and whether it helped you or not!

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