Research Gut Check

by Wendy S. Dunst, Graduate Recruitment and Admissions Associate

I’ve talked to many students lately who are anxious about their research progress and completion. At Fredonia, final projects can take many forms, but there are common concerns to all students who are nearing the end of their graduate program. I’ll address those concerns below and give you some resources you can use to stay on track and complete your project.

Take a deep breath

You are not the first student to feel anxious about completing a major project. In fact, you are not the first adult to feel anxious about completing a major project. The good news is that we want you to succeed! If you’ve gotten this far and you’re doing good work, you’re well on your way to earning your graduate degree. So take a deep breath.

Final requirements for Fredonia graduate degree programs vary widely. In the following sections, I’ll address issues and give tips and resources to assist you in completing your final project — in whatever form that takes. As always, it’s best to touch base with your academic advisor to make sure you’re on track to meet deadlines.

Keep your research goal in mind

Your final graduate project is a culmination of all the knowledge you’ve gained, the academic work you’ve done, and the passion that you bring to your subject area. You’ve already been working hard and you know that there is hard work ahead. With a little planning and perseverance, you can increase your confidence and decrease your stress.

The most important thing to keep in mind throughout this process is your research goal. If you are writing a thesis, your goal will be your research question. If you are creating a capstone project, creation of a classroom resource might be your research goal. Music performance students may be preparing for a final recital, and those who opt to take a comprehensive exam will have a body of work that they’ll be responsible for knowing.

When you work on a project, it’s easy to lose sight of your research goal. But it is most crucial now to keep your goal in sight. Write it on a piece of paper and tape it above your workstation. Make it your background wallpaper on your laptop. Whatever it takes to keep your goal front and center in your mind, do that thing. Seeing this goal whenever you sit down to work will keep you focused. And remember that this is YOUR research — your mentors are there to guide you, but ultimate decisions about your research are yours to make.

Reverse timeline

Now that you’ve created a focal point, you can start to break down the work you’ll need to do to reach your goal. The easiest way to do this is to create a reverse timeline.

Write down your deadline date and work backward, giving yourself a realistic time frame to complete each part of your final project. If you’re into visual representations, you can create a Gantt chart, which is a type of bar chart that illustrates your project timeline.

If you work backward and discover you won’t have time to complete everything, don’t panic but do let your research advisor know that you’re struggling. You will have an opportunity to request an extension if you need one (read on).

Do the work

“The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.” — Mary Heaton Vorse

This is the simplest and most effective advice for completing a writing project and it’s often the hardest to implement. Writing well is not easy. Writer’s block can plague our best efforts. The simplest way to try to get beyond our temporary inability to get words on the page is to set a timer for 10 or 15 minutes and just write. Even if you end up deleting everything you wrote during that period, you’ll often find that you’ve motivated yourself to continue writing beyond the initial period.

Purdue’s online writing lab includes a page to help you overcome writer’s block. You can also refer back to your research timeline to make any necessary adjustments. Don’t allow setbacks to sabotage your project. If you need help, contact your academic advisor immediately.

If you need an extension

Everyone hopes to finish their final project as planned; however, sometimes life happens. If you discover that you need extra time to complete your final project, make arrangements as soon as possible.

  1. Determine the date by which you realistically expect to complete your final work. If you’re completing your work in a spring semester, you have until June 30 to complete your work without having to register for an extension course (see #3 below).
  2. Fill out a work completion contract. You’ll receive a grade of ‘IP’ (in progress) for your research course and your research advisor will change the grade once you’ve completed your work.
  3. Register for GRAD 695. You can still participate in Fredonia’s graduation ceremony, but if you’ll finish your thesis work after June 30, you’ll have to register for GRAD 695 on July 1. This is a one-credit course that ensures your continued access to Fredonia’s services as well as accounting for faculty workload.

Celebrate your success

If you need an extension, you can still participate in the May graduation ceremony. I encourage you to do this! You’ve worked hard and you deserve to celebrate your success.

I hope this post has helped you organize your final project efficiently. I would love to hear about your research experiences, and I plan to highlight student research profiles in future blog posts.