How long does it take to write a Thesis?

Rebecca and I have both submitted our PhD theses. Rebecca dropped hers at the Research School about a week before I submitted mine. Nevertheless its rather nice to have got to this stage pretty much together.

Writing up is an intensive business. Past IET students warned me that it would be, as did my supervisors Ann, Eileen and Patrick. However it is difficult to imagine just how intensive it becomes.

But I think I have the answer to that.

On April 27th 2008, part-way through my third year, I installed Rescuetime and posted about my initial experiences in April and May .Rescuetime records the hours you spend on different applications on the computer. I installed it on every computer that I used for my thesis. You need to tag each application and you can categorise them (writing, research, social networking for example). This I did. My main applications were WORD (writing the thesis), email, Acrobat (reading papers I’d downloaded, tagged as research), the library website, google scholar (which I also tagged as research).

Having finished the thesis, I now find myself with a huge amount of data on how long I physically spent writing my thesis.

Here are graphs of the last six months:


Top left is October, bottom right is March up to 24th when I submitted. It certainly shows how the pressure ramps up. The pale green is time spent actively working on WORD.

My most intensive day during the final week was on Wednesday 16th, about a week before I submitted, when I spent over 7 hours on word, with a short 20 minute break for lunch. I woke up and started at 6am and didn’t stop until 6pm (see below).

12 hour day on 16th March 2009

In October I started working 2.5 days per week which reduced the amount of time available for writing. However I tried to make this up by working weekends. I also took time off in Jan/Feb as holiday and juggled my days around so that I could have series of days when I worked on the thesis without a break.

I have a record of the hours I spent each month physically using WORD:

2009 1st to 24th March 63h 34m

2009 February 83h 18m

2009 January  74h 14m

2008 December 54h 24m

2008 November 61h 9m

2008 October 51h 47m

But obviously, I also used other apps so this just represents writing time, not checking websites, papers, data etc. At first glance, this all looks pretty excessive, but it isn’t. I’ve checked with other final year students and I think this is a fairly accurate representation of what it actually takes to get the thesis finished. I’d be interested in some feedback. I could easily turn this into a small document showing the statistics in a way that is meaningful.

Would this be helpful to other students? Or would it just scare them off?

by Gill Clough

About Gill

Having worked as a Research Fellow with the Institute of Educational Technology at the Open University, I have now semi-retired but retained my association with the OU as an Honorary Associate.
This entry was posted in by Gill, Reflections, Rescuetime, Time Mangement. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to How long does it take to write a Thesis?

  1. Definitely helpful (albeit in a scarily realistic way) and appeals to my inner nerd too. :o)

    Will have a go with RescueTime too!

  2. That’s very useful – I’m still collecting data at the moment, but with an eye to writing up as much as I can as I go along.

    Thanks for the suggestion of RescueTime – am trying it on my work PC out of curiousity! It’s good to see there’s a Mac version too.

  3. Helen Dunningham says:

    This is a fabulous insight into the hours slog at the PC to complete a thesis. I am writing mine as a part-time student and have evenings to get it done, so this goes some way to help me realise the effort needed.

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