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Left your dissertation too late? Ways to take action now

If you are prone to procrastination, or simply busy with many other things, you may suddenly realise that you are behind with your dissertation. Did you leave your dissertation too late? Maybe. Maybe not. It is time to take action! Here are five concrete ways how.


#1 Make a realistic assessment of where you are standing at

The first step to take action if you left your dissertation too late: be honest with yourself. At this point, it is likely too late for strategies such as ‘positive procrastination’.

If you want to stand any chance to get yourself out of the situation, you need to know exactly where you are at.

Sit down, open your documents, and open your calendar. How far are you? Which tasks do you still have to complete? And how much time do you still have left?

#2 Explore rules and opportunities for extending your deadline

Even if you decide to give it your best, and try to make the deadline, it is good to at least explore possibilities for an extension. At this point, a few weeks or even a few days can make a world of difference.

Thus, open your thesis course guide or dissertation handbook and check what happens if you do not submit your dissertation on time. Is there a resit deadline? Are opportunities for extensions mentioned, and if so under what conditions?

The aim is of course to finish the dissertation without having to extend your studies. For instance, some programmes allow students to work independently on their dissertation during the summer. They can still submit their thesis before the start of the new academic year and graduate with their cohort if they pass the dissertation.

If you cannot find information on rules and opportunities for extending your dissertation deadline, contact your supervisor and ask for clarifications.

You may also like: 10 things to do when you feel like your dissertation is killing you

#3 Contact your supervisor and/or study advisor

Getting in touch with your supervisor as soon as possible is a good strategy. Not only to ask for an extension, but to ask for help.

If you left your dissertation too late, you may not have the best relationship with your supervisor.

Now is the time to get over feelings of resentment toward your supervisor. Put your pride aside and ask for help. At this point, you need all the support you can get!

Write an email to your supervisor, in which you explain the tricky situation you find yourself in. And ask for a personal meeting. (These matters are best discussed face-to-face).

During the meeting, ask your supervisor for concrete support. Maybe you struggle with a certain section of your dissertation, which started your procrastination in the first place. Or maybe you struggle with writing a powerful thesis introduction.

Alternatively, or additionally, you can contact your study advisor.

#4 Make a detailed plan on how to tackle your tasks

Next, you need to develop a battle plan! With or without support from your dissertation supervisor or study advisor.

Write down everything that has to happen to finish your dissertation. For instance: Transcribing interviews, improving theoretical framework, writing the analysis, writing the conclusion.

Then, you break each tasks into a set of smaller, more manageable ones. ‘Writing the analysis’, can turn for instance into:

  • Creating a structure for the analysis chapter
  • Drafting section 5.1
  • Drafting section 5.2
  • Drafting section 5.3
  • Inserting interview quotes in the text
  • Editing

Then, you distribute tasks over the remaining time that you have to finish your dissertation. You can write down the plan on paper, in your online calendar, or an excel file. Anything that works for you.

If you are a visual person, you can also make use of visualisations, such as Gantt charts to plan out your tasks and keep you on track.

Don’t be too ambitious though and assign 10 tasks to one day! If you left your dissertation too late, you are probably easily overwhelmed by your dissertation. So don’t overload yourself. If you consistently achieve two or three smaller tasks each day, you have a higher chance for success.

#5 Find an accountability partner

I am not going to lie: If you left your dissertation too late, and you are taking action now to still finish it, you are in for a tough time.

Even if you have a good plan to tackle all your tasks, you will have to work very hard. And working on a dissertation can be lonely and isolating.

Therefore, a good strategy is to find an accountability partner. An accountability partner can be a peer or a friend. Preferably someone who has to work really hard on a dissertation as well.

Accountability partners help each other to keep to their commitment. At the start of each work session, you can share your daily goals with each other. At then end of it, you can check whether you accomplished your tasks.

An accountability partner is also great to develop a routine. For instance, you can commit to meeting every day for 5 hours in the library and working together. During your break, you can go for a walk or have lunch together. It will make the process less lonely and you will have something to look forward to.

Master Academia

Hello, I'm Master Academia, a tenured professor dedicated to guiding individuals through their academic journey. With experience and insights from studying and working across different academic systems, I currently work full-time at a university in Western Europe. Recognizing the impact of unspoken rules in academia, I founded Master Academia to make academic knowledge more accessible to all.

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