Navigating Thesis Writing Challenges as a Novice

沈業恆, Interpretation Track

  During my time in college, whenever I heard my peers from different departments talk about having an entire semester, or even a whole year, free from coursework to solely focus on their thesis, I couldn’t help but feel envious. As a graduate student, I still haven’t experienced such a luxury. The courses of each major present their own unique challenges, which may not be fully understood by outsiders. While I’m not here to compare the difficulty of interpreting with other professions, it’s worth noting that every interpreting class demands more than just attending lectures for three hours a week. Rather, it entails two to three hours of rigorous in-class interpreting practice. Additionally, unless one possesses a natural talent for interpretation, thorough preparation beforehand is crucial. Hence, from what I’ve observed, most students in our department opt to commence their thesis writing in their third year after completing all interpreting courses.

  I stand as the only one in our class undertaking all advanced interpreting classes while concurrently working on my thesis, with a goal of graduating by the end of my second year. Though I have completed my whole journey, I still wish to share some of the challenges I’ve faced and how I’ve managed them, along with potential pitfalls encountered by newcomers to thesis writing.

  • Take the course “Research Methods in Interpreting Studies” seriously.

  Every student in the interpreting track is required to take “Research Methods in Interpreting Studies” during their first year. This course mandates the submission of a 10-page research proposal by the end of the semester, which can serve as a foundation for your graduation thesis. Investing time and effort into identifying a research direction and conducting preliminary research can save a significant amount of time in the future. Some students opt for a random topic for their proposal, only to realize later that they lack genuine interest in the subject, forcing them to start anew when beginning their thesis. This results in a considerable waste of time. Therefore, it is crucial to make the most of this opportunity.

  • Find inspiration from your interpreting classes and engage with your professors.

  As mentioned earlier, regarding the significance of selecting a topic, inspiration often strikes unexpectedly.

  I recall struggling to identify a suitable topic initially, especially under the pressure of meeting the deadline for my research proposal submission to graduate within two years. (This emphasizes the importance of planning in Year 1 rather than waiting until Year 2 or later!) Professor Wu often emphasized the importance of finding a “niche” in every thesis during class discussions, which ultimately guided me in finding mine. I believe that everyone may have questions or realizations after an interpreting class, which can serve as a starting point for identifying potential research topics. Additionally, inspiration can be drawn from reading other theses or even from everyday experiences. It’s essential not passively to accept information but rather to challenge and critically analyze it by asking questions such as why, how, and what. Your research topic may stem from this process.

  Once you have a preliminary idea, it’s crucial to seize the opportunity to discuss it with your professors. They can provide valuable insights and guidance, helping you refine your topic or make necessary adjustments. Prior to finalizing my topic, I regularly sought out Professor Wu during breaks in our class sessions, and I even had extensive discussions with Professor Fan until 10 pm. (I am sincerely grateful for their time and dedication in assisting me on my academic journey!)

  • Utilize your vacations wisely.

  There are two crucial periods: the summer vacation in Year 1 and the winter vacation in Year 2. As previously mentioned, you would have completed a 10-page proposal for “Research Methods in Interpreting Studies”. The subsequent summer vacation provides the ideal opportunity to expand this proposal into your final 20-page proposal. With the absence of weekly class preparations, you can dedicate your time to conducting research, reading relevant theses for your literature review, and planning your experiment or interviews. Similarly, you can capitalize on the winter vacation in Year 2 to complete your experiment or even transform your proposal into the first draft of your graduate thesis.

  • Allocate dedicated time for writing and editing.

  I used to have a habit of reading and editing my writing from the beginning every time I opened a document. However, given that it’s nearly impossible to complete a proposal (or thesis) in one sitting, I’ve found a more efficient approach to managing this habit. Continuously revisiting Chapter 1 before adding new content can be time-consuming. Therefore, I recommend separating the two actions.

  While it’s understandable that reviewing everything before adding new material may enhance cohesion, it’s not the most efficient method. Instead, focus on writing first and reserve a separate time for editing and revising.

  • Keep in touch with your advisor!

  This is where my struggles are from! My advice is to report to your advisor and seek revision advice every time you complete every 10 to 20 pages (a section or a chapter) of your thesis. This practice ensures that you remain on the right track and helps keep the scale of revisions manageable. I once waited until I had added another 50 pages before sending my thesis to my advisor, resulting in a significant number of revisions. If foundational changes are required at this stage, it can be time-consuming and require a shift in perspective to address. Therefore, it’s vital to ensure that revisions remain manageable by seeking feedback regularly throughout the writing process.

  I’m finding a couple of hours to write this essay despite still having 5 PowerPoints, 2 PDFs to prepare, a GoReact video to record, and 20 pages of unrevised thesis left. Yet, writing this essay clears my head a bit and reminds me of how close I am to the finish line. Despite taking only three courses this semester, I feel like I have less control over my time compared to when I had five courses last semester. Even with more free time now, I often feel tired (or perhaps I’m just being lazy?). So, even if I had a semester with no classes, I might not be more productive. Ultimately, it all boils down to effective time management and personal determination. Completing everything within two years is NOT the only path to finishing the GPTI journey. Everyone can choose the pace that suits them best. The key lies in knowing what you want and how determined you are to achieve it. This determination could be the driving force needed to complete the final stretch of your journey.