Hopefully, you’ve now mapped and audited your thesis. This should show you what’s left to do. Maybe this has thrown up some problems, such as lack of access to archives, travel restrictions, or unavailability of research participants.
These situations are incredibly frustrating and it’s hard to avoid endless rumination. Instead of obsessing about the problem, though, we need to use our creative powers for problem-solving. One of the best techniques is to ask ourselves questions, “How could I …?” This opens our minds and we start considering possibilities.
When I’m stuck, I challenge myself to come up with 10 potential solutions. Although most of them are complete rubbish, there are always at least three that are viable. I then try each of those in turn. This isn’t scientific at all, but the third option always works. It’s almost impossible to come up with a perfect solution right away. Reduce the pressure on yourself by setting a goal of 10 rubbish ideas. The more ideas you create, the greater your chances of finding a winner.
For specific activities, consider whether they can be ditched, adapted, or postponed.
Perhaps that visit to an archive isn’t essential, now that you’ve established your Mininum Viable Thesis. It’s a nice to have, but won’t make the difference between a pass and a fail. Reducing your scope could magically remove the problem. Maybe you could get scanned versions of the documents instead. Although you’d prefer to rummage about in those boxes yourself, requesting specific documents might help focus your project and make it more manageable. Could you postpone the trip until later in your PhD? Could you rejig the timeline for your research and tackle other parts of your project first? If everything else is done, you can then give your full attention to that final piece.
There might be areas of your thesis that you can easily complete now without access to other resources. You don’t need to write your thesis in the order in which it appears – batch together all the sections by activity type and work out what’s the best use of your time now.
If you need access to research participants, there are almost certainly technological solutions, such as Zoom calls and online surveys. Although it’s not what you envisaged, you might even find these approaches are better. You’ll get more data and in a more usable format. You could also end up spending less time on transcribing, which almost nobody enjoys.
Use the template below to identify your problems and come up with solutions.
If possible, discuss those problems and potential solutions with a friend or colleague. The fact that they’re not directly involved will give them greater perspective. They’ll ask very different questions from you and help you see new possibilities. Even if they don’t have ideas, them asking you questions will stimulate your creativity.