Month: February 2021

Surviving your Thesis: Literature Review – by Fausia

Thesis crisis diverted; topic approved. Approved? Enthusiastically welcomed in this case. You know what you want to do and will do it well. Right? Ok, so you have a research question. You handed in your preliminary thesis proposal and did some compulsory assignments for your thesis.

You also looked up all the necessary information to answer that question. Or better said, you have found a ton of information you think is useful but nowhere near possible to even read it all before having to finalize your end product.

With snow gently floating down from the sky behind my windows, I find my way through the amount of articles, books and hastily scribbled down notes on the floor. The sources are sacred. 

Another source of stress immediately emerges: what will my sources be? Anyone who has to write a thesis cannot avoid doing a literature search – using scientific literature and other relevant sources. 

With Covid19 affecting our lives, prohibiting most of us to do any form of field research, many might be basing your thesis on existent literature. Your thesis will therefore not be much more than a number of logically collected and bundled sources. So you might think.

Those sources better be good, but what is good? Or rather: what is good enough? And how to interpret them and give it a unique swing. Whether a literature study-based thesis or more practice-oriented ones, literature research often forms the basis for the realization of your problem analysis. 

You collect existing knowledge about your subject in books, scientific articles and also, for example, in theses or archive material. What is already known about the topic and what are the unanswered questions? 

Uploaded by: AFP News Agency, Jul 8, 2019 / UNSMIL deputy head Stephanie Williams at the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum, Tunis, Tunisia, Nov. 9, 2020. (Reuters) / Yemen’s foreign minister Khaled al-Yamani (left) and head rebel negotiator Mohammed Abdelsalam (right) shake hands under the eyes of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, during talks in Rimbo, north of Stockholm, on December 13 (AFP)

For me, the feeling that I am missing an important source is a cause for stress. It is only good enough when I have at least read everything that is reasonably available to me. In addition, I come across many obscure books and articles, especially books. 

An additional advantage of this is that I estimate the chance that my supervisor will look up those peculiar once and therefore expect that he will assume that I am representing the source correctly for the sake of convenience. In my case, I am going to analyse recordings and materials of peace processes within a certain setting and time frame.

Having material in different languages from non-mainstream media equals peculiar little books. So I thought. My supervisor with sheer enthusiast: “Oh, great, you speak all the source languages! We will have even more interesting findings. Make sure you transliterate, and preferably also translate all of it so one of our colleagues can double-check.” Whomp, whomp.

Your literature search is not a simple collection of literature, but a thorough orientation. A critical discussion of the data found then leads to your problem analysis, and answering questions or hypotheses. What?

A theoretical framework. Literature research is the basis of this theoretical framework, in which you lay the scientific basis for your research. Concepts, theories, ideas, and models relevant to your research – all part of it.

I cannot stress how important it is to have the right supervisor. The theoretical framework I thought to be probably useful, was quickly shaped into a perfect three-way angle in one meeting. Many students forget the bulk of thesis should be the analysis. It is like the burger part of, well, your burger.

Stick to 25% of your work to be theoretical framework and introduction. No pressure of compressing it all in a couple of pages. My windowsill currently contains nine kilos of dead tree, which I will use to write up to four pages – minus acknowledgements.

Another option is reverse engineering: you come up with an answer to your research question and search for the sources that support this answer. 

Whatever style of source research you use, there is one golden rule for the highest mark: Use the literature that your supervisor has published on this subject. Or better yet, researchers from the department. 

He or she is only made of flesh and blood and has subjective feelings, too. Don’t forget, at Uppsala University, your supervisor does not grade your thesis! In the end, you need to ask yourself the question: “Do you write a thesis to contribute to the scientific debate or to solve a problem as effectively as possible, or to obtain the highest possible mark?” With master’s behind me, my goal is to contribute to my field. Hopefully, that does not exclude graduating cum laude.


Survive your Thesis Writing: Choosing a Topic – By Fausia

At the time of writing this blog, the first month of 2021 has come to an end. The holidays are now really behind us – the world has said goodbye to 2020 and ‘normal’ life has started again. Here at Uppsala University we have said hello to a whole new semester. That is, if we do not consider the poor suckers who had a month-course over the holidays which was their beginning of semester 2… a.k.a. me.

Since the end of the last course, which was only half of Januarys, I have found myself finally in the luxury position that I only need to write our thesis to complete the master’s in Religion in Peace and Conflict. There is a bit of a rush, because I would like to graduate with the rest of our group in May.

However, I am determined to graduate in the famous halls of Uppsala University so graduation will be depending on the pandemic. So, there is thesis stress. A thesis should be the crowning glory of your programme.

In fact, it is probably the single somewhat important part of your curriculum and with most of us doing this programme being professionals having different reasons of why to do this master’s it requires a little bit more thought. You cannot be the so-and-so of a renowned organisation and publish a crappy thesis, right? Nor will it help you make a career switch. 

It must be done well.

The thesis stress starts long before a possible deadline comes in sight, even well before the actual writing. Why? You have to choose a topic! In principle any subject is allowed in the master’s phase, for us it means as long as you bring in an element connected to religion.

As most RPC students have very different academic backgrounds, shaped over the years by personal and professional experience, the topics chosen are also very broad. The idea that as many options as possible promotes creativity is strongly felt… and strongly increases the insecurity and stress. 

Any topic with a religious element offers an infinite number of areas and issues that can be investigated, an infinite number of spaces that can be entered. Is the student now expected to inexorably slam the door of an infinite number of spaces minus one? Yes, apparently.

However, it gives the opportunity to choose something exactly fitting your goals. A wrongly chosen topic that must be changed later on leads to a waste of time and should therefore be avoided. The subject must be good, but what criteria must a subject meet to be good? 

First of all, the subject must of course be interesting, which is completely subjective and certainly not enough. The subject must not be milked out, but there must be something to be found about it. It must be specific, but comprehensive enough to transcribe a full thesis.

Preferably, the subject also has some practical or current value to show your academic skills as a specialist in whatever field. For a really good thesis, your research topic has an interdisciplinary dimension which is exactly what our entire program is focused on.

Add a possibility for some self-conducted original research material, and you have the perfect thesis topic. Sounds simple, does it not? As stress was adding, I proposed a weekly zoom thesis meeting to the group to keep each other sane and on track. Apparently, it was not that simple.

In my case I was not even sure if I would be allowed to write my 30 ects thesis as I waited for my last grades to trickle in. An ulcer and confirmation later, I was sure what to write about. I think. Bringing together all my interests, previous programmes, personal and professional experiences just pushed out a readymade topic.

For me, the trick for fine tuning the topic was to be current so just put on the news and zapped through till my topic came up and adapted it. And, to choose something not entirely done before which it turned out to be, so it has some value in the near future. Will it be accepted, however?

February will switch the thesis development to full gear and, of course, I will hear from my brilliant supervisor if my proposal will be approved. Or not. I have now made peace with my own subject, which felt like a big bump. Thesis stress has been averted for now, but undoubtedly not definitively.


Tips for Managing Your Life and Studies – By Sara

Oh, the life of a student. You end up feeling like you are juggling your studies, friends, and your own needs all at once, hoping it won’t all come tumbling down at the same time. I’ve started to get the hang of balancing all of my responsibilities, educational and social alike with a few tricks I’ve learned worked for me.

Laundry and Readings
Do your laundry on the same day you need to do your literature readings. I’ve learned that not only do readings vary in length, but also in how interesting they are. Either way, you will have literature to read, so taking short breaks as you go and check on your laundry will feel suddenly like something you look forward to doing. This means you will not only have good smelling clothes again, but you will get your mind off of studying for a bit!

Self-Care and Studying
I always feel better when I take some time to do a little self-care at one point in the busy week. You naturally feel better when you are taking care of yourself and doing what makes you feel refreshed. Personally, I found that by doing a face or hair mask while studying has been very effective.

Avoid Social Media Distractions
Social media can be a major distraction when trying to study, so consider turning off all of your notifications and set an alarm on your phone instead. You can check your social media notifications every half an hour or hour (depending on how much self-control you have). I even turn off my phone once in a while if I am catching myself procrastinating by watching dogs on Instagram for longer than 15 minutes.

Rewards and Treats
When you finish a reading, you should reward yourself! You do deserve it since readings can be quite long and painful to finish, so when you do, eat something that you will bring you joy! Maybe you crave pizza, a cinnamon bun, or chocolate? No matter what food or dessert you choose to celebrate finishing a reading with, enjoy every bite!

Clean up
Getting rid of the physical clutter around you can get rid of the mental clutter that you have been dealing with that’s been making you procrastinate. Now, I don’t mean for you to spend the whole day distracting yourself by inspecting every inch of your home and meticulously cleaning. What I recommend is that you choose a place in your home to clean, such as your kitchen or bedroom. Pick a place where you tend to study the most and clean that specific area until it is clutter free. Now, you are ready to study and you’ve cleaned!

Social Food and Studying
Whether itis on campus or in someone’s home, eating with a friend and fulfilling the social need you have is just as important as studying. You might even be able to get some inspiration for what to write for your paper or assignment while talking about it with a friend. If you fill your stomach, then your brain will be ready to be filled with knowledge.

Fulfilling your social needs and educational responsibilities doesn’t mean you need to choose one over the other. You can manage both your life and studies using the tricks I’ve learned along the way. Now, itis your turn to try them out!

/Sara Mohamadi