At the time of writing this, I have roughly three hours until I give the biggest presentation of my academic career. Yes, my friends, I’m talking about thesis defense. Many of Gannon’s programs require students to complete a senior research thesis (other schools call it a capstone) before graduation. For some students, thesis can be an individual or group project. It can span just an academic semester, or in my lucky case, nearly three years.

The point of a thesis is to apply what you learned throughout your time in school to a research topic of your choosing. For occupational therapy students, we choose a topic of our thesis in our junior year, design and complete a research study our senior year, and then document and discuss our findings in a thesis paper and formal defense presentation. Fortunately, the department allows the whole process to be done in small groups, so the work is theoretically more manageable.

Seeing as how I’ve been sitting on this thesis thing for nearly three years, I’ve come to terms with how to manage a big intimidating project. No matter what stage of the thesis process you are in, you’re likely to get a bit overwhelmed. Fear not, here are some tips to help you master your thesis or any other important academic presentation.

1. Form a Plan or Timeline

I’m blessed that GU’s OT program basically did this for us, but I know some other departments are a bit more lenient. Cut down big activities into smaller chunk and make deadlines for each activity. Start with researching your topic. Start with a bigger deadline, like, “I want to have my literature review and bibliography sources done by this date.” Then break up that goal into small chunks: “I will read five articles by the end of this week.” Continue this process the whole way through and you won’t be that person trying to find all 50 sources for their annotated bibliography the night before it’s due.

2. Weekly Meetings with your adviser and/or group members

Another great idea to keep you on track is weekly meetings with the people directly involved with your thesis. Again, my program made it so weekly meetings with your adviser was mandatory and part of your grade, but other programs don’t have this luxury. This way, you can chalk out your plan of attack, and get recommendations from your adviser on how to proceed with your project.

3. Celebrate the mini victories

Treat yo’self when you DO reach a deadline. Finished finding all your sources? Yay, go outside and do something fun with friends! Wrote a rough draft of your paper? Good, shut down your computer and take a hot shower. The week leading up to your defense is especially tense. Make sure to take extra good care of yourself during this time. Review you paper and practice your presentation, but don’t stress over it. Run through everything once or twice, and then reward yourself. Catch up on sleep, grab dinner with friends, walk around Presque Isle. Getting out of the “thesis brain” will help you relax and actually make you feel more prepared.

4. Remind Yourself of the Big Picture

As stated before, the whole point of a thesis project is to determine your level of knowledge. Did you learn what you were supposed to during your time at university? Are you able to incorporate all that you learned from your program into one big neat wrapped package? If you are going to be defending your research in front of a panel (teachers, other faculty), understand that they may ask you questions. This isn’t done to trip you up or make you look dumb, it’s to test the extent of your knowledge. Are you able to answer a question with an educated response?

Alright, readers. I’ve got to leave you at this point in time. We’re down to an hour to until my group presents. Time for me to get myself presentable, look over my note-cards one last time, and ace my Master’s thesis defense. And I hope you do the same!