A year ago I had this crazy idea of experimenting with the final semester of my two-year course. Being an international student in Australia, doing two postgraduate degrees and working at the same time was apparently not enough for me. So instead of choosing to do a professional project and finishing my degree, I decided to do a research project.
If you must know, I literally had no idea of how to do a research project or how to write a thesis. So I went to my professor and told him about my plans to complete a research project for my final semester. “If students imagine completing a research project in three months, I ask them to come and see me. And they later un-imagine it,” came my professor’s reply.
I was then given special permission to take two semesters to finish this research project – and hopefully in a few weeks’ time I will submit my first completed piece of research. In the past few months I have learned a lot of lessons that I want to share, in case you also decide to follow this route without any prior knowledge of how to do a research project!
My professor asked a faculty member to become my supervisor. I floated an idea about what area I was interested in working on, and she agreed to keep an eye on me. In terms of a supervisor I couldn’t have asked for anything better. She is patient with me, she knows my shortcomings and she always motivates me even if I am unable to see myself progressing. Having such a supervisor makes this journey very comfortable and easy.
I told you earlier that I did not have any clue about how to do a research project. That was my reality and I didn’t try to hide it. I communicated my weakness openly to my supervisor and warned her in advance that I would be asking stupid questions throughout the duration of my project just so I could get an idea of what I was doing. “No question is stupid,” she assured me. The credit indeed goes to her, but it is ultimately your responsibility to communicate with your supervisor and ask as many questions as you need to.
Your topic will determine your project. It should be interesting and it should be something that you really want to investigate. So never rely on others for recommendations about what should be your topic of research. Try to read and think a lot and you will find an area of interest. Explore your inner self, even if it takes time. In a few weeks you will start gathering your thoughts and realize what you actually are interested in researching.
Your topic could be the best in the field, but do you have enough resources to finish the project? Suppose your research project involves travelling halfway around the world to conduct a field investigation. The question you must be asking yourself is: can I afford that much time and money? If not, then no matter how brilliant your idea is, you need to think of something else. Save this one for when you receive a healthy research grant.
Having a project timeline is everything. It keeps you on track all the time. You should have a timeline set out in the first week, stating targets that you must achieve throughout the duration of your research project. Things could go wrong here and there, and you can always adjust dates, but it is very important to have a schedule, ideally broken down further into weekly targets. Ask your supervisor about what kind of targets you should set and try to achieve these on a weekly basis. Doing this should help you avoid becoming overwhelmed.
If you’re unsure how to write a thesis, the best advice I can give is not to leave the writing stage until last. Start writing from day one. This is something I learned the hard way. My supervisor always suggests writing, but I don’t feel comfortable doing that unless I have all the information in hand. However, I’ve learned how important it is to write down whatever you do, and make notes of whatever you read. Documenting the whole process as you go will help you finalize the project in a very effective way. So don’t worry about writing things that are “wrong” or that don’t make sense. Remember, it only has to make sense once the whole project is finished. So even if it seems raw, keep on writing and get regular feedback from your supervisor.
These are some general rules that apply to every research project. You will definitely have to alter a few things here and there depending on your area of interest and your topic. I wish you good luck for this. And if you need to talk to me, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below. Finally, remember that persistence is the key. You may feel like giving up when things go off track, but stick with it and you’ll not only emerge with a completed project, you’ll also gain lots of invaluable skills along the way