Writing your Master’s Thesis is like finishing your first marathon, not a sprint
By Florence van Riet
During my Spring and Summer Semester 2023 at United States International University – Africa (USIU), I started my Master’s thesis journey. And I kid you not, when I say that this has been the most hard and frustrating, but also the most rewarding and fulfilling experience so far in my academic career.
Choosing a topic, putting data together and writing your thesis is an exciting but also a somewhat worrying process. Let’s start with how I chose my topic. Actually, I did not choose my topic, rather it chose me. Let me explain how this came about.
In December 2021, I was on my way home to Denmark for Christmas from Nairobi. Unfortunately, my flight was delayed from Nairobi, which meant that I missed my connecting flight in Doha. The next available flight was 18 hours later. Luckily, I was not the only one stranded in Doha, so I paired up with another Danish girl also going back to Denmark for Christmas. What I didn’t know, was that she worked for 4Life Solutions – a Danish-based impact company that works to provide clean and safe drinking water in low-income communities, and she ended up offering that I could write my thesis in collaboration with them.
Partnering with 4Life Solutions meant that my research topic would have to concern itself with water. After going back and forth about how to make this relevant for my degree in International Relations with a concentration in Development Studies, I decided to connect it to a big passion of mine; Gender studies. I managed to fill out a gap in research for 4Life Solutions as they had not yet done in-depth research about Gender in their project in Mukuru Kwa Reuben in Nairobi. Therefore, I decided to explore women’s role in water supply and management, the obstacles they face in their access to water and focused on how to include and raise women’s voice in decision-making on water related issues. My thesis ended up being titled: “Gender in Water Governance: Reinforcing SDGs in Informal Settlements – A Case of 4Life Solutions”.
I had known since I got the word ‘master’s thesis’ into my brain, who my supervisor would be. I chose my supervisor, Dr. Nicodemus Minde, based on his teaching methods and style from previous classes and because I knew he would be the right person to guide me in the right direction. I had heard other students talking about choosing a supervisor who is ‘strict’, but I went with my gut feeling and chose a supervisor who would tell me what is needed, but in akinder way, and this worked out so well. From there, the actual thesis process began.
I read somewhere that writing your thesis is like finishing your first marathon. Going into it, you know that it is going to be a lot work. The longest paper you have written in your academic career so far. You know it will take a long time and that it will test your abilities. Towards the end, you must work even harder to write your thesis. You keep telling yourself – it’s just a little farther – one more night on short sleep.
One of the biggest challenges that I faced during my thesis writing was procrastination. The devil on the shoulder that all students meet at some point in their academic career. I kept telling (lying to) myself that I work best under pressure. Other issues that I met writing my thesis was the anxiety and self-doubt connected to it. Questions such as: Is my topic good enough, does whatever I am writing make sense, does my theory make sense? What about my research questions, are they good enough? And then let’s not forget about the guilt you have when you do anything else besides writing, thinking or dreaming about your thesis. I personally suffered a lot from this, as I was also working full-time at my dream internship. This meant that I often felt like I was doing both half-heartedly. And I have never been good at doing something half-heartedly.
However, what worked for me was that I (per request from my supervisor) made a workplan and actually stuck to it. The latter was so important. And for me to actually get to writing, I had to leave my house. Artcaffé and the school library became my second home.
And then, before you know it, you defend. Your defense cluster is there to see you (hopefully) cross the finish line at your defense. Then your supervisor and reader signs forms that you have passed. That great sense of accomplishment and huge sense of relief is something no one can ever take away from you. I personally plan on keeping that feeling with me for the next challenges that I will meet in this life.
As I conclude, I would like to share a major advice for the people entering the Master thesis journey, or those currently trying to conquer it. Write. Just write. If you are stuck in your literature review, move on to your theoretical framework. The most important thing is that you write. It does not need to be perfect at first. You can always go back to edit. You’ve got this!
And last but not least, Cheers to the Class of 2023! WE DID THAT.
Florence Violetta Gunni van Riet holds a master’s degree in International Relations from the United States International University – Africa. She is a Danish citizen with Tanzanian and Dutch background with a special interest and passion for international politics with a specific focus on East Africa and with issues such as gender, health and civil society.