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Master's thesis stories: London lockdown. Writing block. Completed in three weeks

The big assignment — The study programme ends with one major assignment. And it can be stressful, exhausting, and uplifting, to write it. The University Post has found bachelor’s and master’s thesis stories. 

Have you turned cross-eyed from doing proofreading? Euphoric from a topic of discussion? Hit by writer’s block?

No matter what your bachelor’s or master’s thesis process looks like, you’re not the first to have experienced both the highs and the lows. It is a time where big thoughts are turned into coherent phrases, sections and chapters. Sometimes they are spot on. But sometimes they also just refuse to leave your fingers.

The University Post has gathered bachelor’s and master’s thesis stories. They come from different people on different study programmes, and everyone has had very different experiences.

One of them suffered from writers block for almost a year. Another student did their master’s thesis on top of a full-time job. A third got pregnant with twins, after she had already postponed giving in her thesis once.

All the students we talked to have had their ups and downs. And most of them describe a process that has been both exhausting and uplifting.

Happy reading!

»It hit me like a bolt of lightning: I had forgotten to write an abstract«

Mathias Stilling. Did his master’s thesis in rhetoric in the spring of 2019.

»I had to write my master’s thesis during a spring where I was also doing all kinds of cool things. I worked as a freelance journalist, was performing as a rapper, hung out with my friends, and did almost everything else but write a master’s thesis.

When I check the notes on my phone from that time, I find rap battles, random names of people I have met out on the town at night, places I would like to travel to, and pitches for radio programmes. But thesis? Nothing. It is actually a bit crazy that I do not have one single note about my master’s thesis from that spring.

I postponed submitting it, of course, when the first deadline came at the end of May. And then I quickly invited all my friends and family to the new submission date at the end of August, so that I was certain that I actually got it done this time.

At that time, I had hardly talked to my thesis supervisor, so I pulled myself together and booked a meeting for the end of June. This needed a bit of courage, as I found it quite embarrassing to reveal how little I had done all these months to my supervisor.

Unfortunately the meeting was held on the same day as I went to Roskilde Festival. I didn’t have my computer with me, and I remember sitting there eagerly nodding and jotting notes on a piece of paper, while I at the same time fidgeted just waiting to go to the festival. I lost the piece of paper afterwards, of course.

When I think back on that day, I can’t understand why I didn’t just write and ask my supervisor for advice beforehand

Mathias Stilling

The summer passed with being on festival, being laid low after festival, and falling in love. I met my girlfriend in the middle of everything. Of course it’s not her fault, but I have to tell you that a lot of time just disappeared with her that summer.

It was not until my girlfriend’s holiday finished , and my friends suddenly had to return to work at the beginning of August, that I thought about maybe getting started. At the time there was three weeks left to submit. I did not contact my supervisor at all because, I thought again that it was too embarrassing that I had not yet started.

For the next three weeks, I did nothing else but sit at the library and just work through the thing, and in the end I handed in an average master’s thesis. I was up all the last night before the day, because I had invited friends and family over to see me click ‘submit’ on a big screen.

I typed the last full stop around 12 noon, when I had asked friends and family to meet up at KUA campus. Just before we got to the event, where I was to press submit, it suddenly hit me like a bolt of lightning: I had forgotten to write an abstract.

I told my family that there were technical problems with the big screen, and I crashed into another room to quickly write an abstract. I was away for an hour where people wrote and asked if I was okay, and I replied ‘yes, it’s fine, I’ll be back in a bit’.

When the abstract was finished, and I had put everything together in a pdf file, I could go back and click ‘submit’ on the big screen while everybody was applauding. Then we drank bubbly in the late summer heat, and over the course of the day, more friends dropped by. I hadn’t slept at all, but it was one of the best days ever. An absolutely fantastic culmination of everything.

When I think back on that day, I can’t understand why I didn’t just write and ask my supervisor for advice beforehand. I should have just done that, of course. Luckily, it went fine anyway – I got a four! Twice as good as what I had hoped for!«

»What exactly are you doing, Julius? You just can’t do that.«

Julius Mads Prehn Did his master’s thesis in political science in the spring of 2021.

»Just before I started my master’s thesis, I was fortunate to be offered a full-time position at the embassy in London where I was about to complete an internship. It had always been the intention that I would go home to Denmark and write my master’s thesis when my internship was over, but suddenly my dream job was in front of me.

It was really cool, even though it meant that I had to start a new full-time position and write my thesis at the same time. I knew this would be a huge project.

I started both my master’s thesis and work in January, when London was in the midst of a hard corona lockdown. Shortly before the start of the job, I had moved into a one-room studio apartment, and both my work, and my thesis writing, had to, in principle, take place from home.

Luckily I was able to sit at the embassy and do my master’s thesis in the evening. If I had to sit on the same 14 square metres, I would probably have gone crazy.

My daily life turned into working from home during normal working hours at the embassy, then, when the working day was over, closing my work computer, taking the 40 minutes trip to the embassy just to get outside a bit, then writing my master’s thesis in the office for the rest of the evening. The big efforts took place during the weekend, where I could immerse myself in the thesis undisturbed.

I knew this would be a huge project

Julius Mads Prehn

It was a pretty crazy process, and there were also times when things just collapsed. One of the last weekends before I handed it in something urgent suddenly showed up at work. I was really, really busy with my master’s thesis, but I had to work. What exactly are you doing, Julius? You just can’t do that.

I managed to think this a couple of times. I wrote my master’s thesis on Russian foreign policy during Putin’s third presidential period, which was closely related to what I was working with on a daily basis. One of my colleagues had given me an interview with a prominent person in the field. It was a big deal, and the meeting was pretty formal.

Just as we started the interview, the phone rang from my work. And my work had a higher priority than my master’s thesis, so I had to take it. It was just … pretty awkward, right? Luckily, the person I was interviewing was full of understanding, and things went well. But the anecdote underlines just how difficult it was to do two things at the same time.

Luckily, everything worked out in the end, and today I think back to my master’s thesis process as a great experience. It could, of course, only be done because I didn’t have any other obligations than work and master’s thesis. And it probably helped that London was in lockdown – what else would I have spent my time on?«

»The summer vacation came, the motivation did not.«

Nimué Nørgaard. Did her bachelor’s assignment on the French programme in the spring of 2021.

»I did my bachelor’s degree assignment on my own and had to start the process in the middle of a corona lockdown. Everything took place from home and over Zoom, and I really found it difficult to get started in this setting.

My motivation was so low that I quickly decided to postpone the submission and really pull my socks up over the summer holidays, where I hoped that my motivation would be greater. My new deadline for submission was now at the end of August.

The summer vacation came, but the motivation did not. I then got pregnant in the middle of it all – with twins. While the clock was ticking down, I was just waiting for some revelation to take place, or that I would find some golden key that would help me unlock my bachelor’s project. But it didn’t happen.

Suddenly there were only a week left. I had, of course, done some reading and taken some notes along the way, but I hadn’t really written anything yet. On the same day as I finally decided to get started, I was hit by morning sickness.

It was absolutely terrible. So I thought that I’d have to wait a couple of days for it to pass. But it did not, and when there was three days left to hand it in, I just had to get started, in spite of the nausea.

For the last three days, it was just a matter of lying in bed and just digging into it until the nausea took over. And then I had to take a break before I could continue. It was really tough. And on top of all this, the assignment had to be written in French!

After three intense days, I managed to hand it in and I ended up getting a seven! I hadn’t exactly expected that, but I really appreciated it.«

»I had some kind of mental block«

David Rosing-Schow. Wrote his master’s thesis in musicology in the period 2018-19.

»I simply couldn’t get started on my master’s thesis. I had some kind of mental block that made it impossible for me.

I kept postponing and putting it off. And I postponed my submission the two times that you are allowed to do so. My supervisor said at one point that he would not write and ask me what the status was, and that I had to contact him myself when I had something I could send to him. So I just did not do it.

I think I saw the master’s thesis as something gigantic and confusing, and I didn’t know how to approach it. Everyone had told me that it would be really hard, so that was probably also why I didn’t really want to open up the process.

In November 2018 I remember it really hit me that I really had to get started. I had postponed it for the second time, my new submission date was at the end of January, and I had no more attempts left. But time passed without anything happening. It was December, then it was Christmas, and I still hadn’t started.

All of a sudden, I could write my master’s thesis, which it had taken me a year to get started with.

David Rosing-Schow

A few days after Christmas, it hit me again, I really had to get started if I was to write my thesis. So I changed my strategy and only went for how I could make it the easiest for myself.

It started with me selecting some methods of analysis that I had worked on before, and tried to see if I could build up my master’s thesis around them. It worked really well, and suddenly I was in the process.

My entire master’s thesis was completed in five weeks. It was very intense. I got a new roomie at the beginning of January, and I hardly saw her in the first month, because I left the place at eight in the morning and came home at 10 in the evening.

I drank a lot of energy drinks and didn’t sleep very much. But the more I was able to close things off and finish, the more it helped. All of a sudden, I could write my master’s thesis, which it had taken me a year to get started with.

I did nothing else during the last three weeks. I cancelled all my appointments and took time off from work. But I’m proud that I actually only ended up doing one ‘all-nighter’, which was the last night before the submission deadline.

I got sick a few days after I had handed in, probably because the process had been so exhausting, especially at the end. I regret of course, that I did not have a better process, because then the result would probably have been better.

When I finally got started, I didn’t have time to get any input from my supervisor, so I just had to do the whole thing myself. It still actually ended up with me getting a ten, which was a really big achievement for me.

Who knows, maybe I’d been given a 12 if I hadn’t been so scared to get started.«

»The thesis is just an assignment«

Ulrikke Dybdal Sørensen. Currently doing his master’s thesis in political science.

»I am in the absolute final phase of writing my thesis with my submission at the end of May. I am, of course, under a bit – actually a lot – of pressure over it. I don’t think you can avoid this.

My thesis is about what it means to be an autonomous, democratic individual in the digital age. The idea began to take shape while I was an intern in Brussels at Denmark’s permanent representation at the EU.

During my process, I made contact with some prominent people in the field in both Brussels and Denmark, and did some really cool interviews. In March I went to Brussels where I met talented people who made it clear to me that what I am doing is an exciting and relevant contribution.

I’ve been quite surprised by how seriously I’ve been taken as a master’s thesis student. Because on paper, the thesis is just an assignment, and I sometimes find that there is a slightly negative narrative about the master’s thesis as something that you should not get too deeply involved with. I think that is a shame. It can be an insanely exciting process that has brought me into contact with a lot of exciting people and has created some interesting opportunities.

It’s not because I want to romanticize the master’s thesis writing, because it’s a tough process, and in many ways it’s just an exam assignment. And even though I have had many positive experiences, there have, of course, also been frustrations and defeats.

I have got responses to my enquiries a couple of times, where they have fundamentally doubted the purpose or relevance of my project. Even though it has been a small minority, it has nevertheless been discouraging.

And, of course, there have also been periods where it has been difficult to gather my thoughts and ideas into something specific. And I have written 20 pages that suddenly did not make sense to me. Other times I haven’t been able to write anything at all. All of the classic challenges in a writing process.

Right now, I’m in the final sprint, where I constantly question the quality of my thesis. But overall, it has been a really cool process that has been very rewarding. I would like to say that this kind of thesis process is also possible.«