Many students fail to graduate on time because their theses are not complete. Some delays are inevitable, but there are ways to minimize them.
- Unavailable Parts.
Special parts which have to be ordered can cause delays of weeks or months. Try to find alternate sources, other ways of coping, and do legwork rather than passively waiting for parts to arrive. Do other aspects of the thesis, like writing, if waiting is unavoidable.
- Waiting for Other People to do Their Part.
PhD students and faculty can operate on a different time-scale than MEng students. Next term can be almost as good as next week. Try to anticipate and work around these problems, avoiding projects that are excessively interwoven with theses that can't really be started until somebody else makes something work. Think flexibly about altering your project to avoid this, but NOT by enlarging it to include other people's projects! Bear in mind that some faculty are more accustomed to extensive two-year research masters theses, not the two to three term MEng thesis projects.
- The Incredible Expanding Thesis.
Your project will evolve as you progress. But that should not mean that it gets bigger and more inclusive. Negotiate diplomatically.
- The Alienated Supervisor.
Students often think a supervisor has lost patience with the student and the project when it is nothing personal, just the press of other commitments. Do not react to this situation by disappearing. Keep working and keep your supervisor aware of your efforts and progress. They like to know what is going on, and they hate feeling that you've disappeared. Be visible and send updates even if there's no response. Failure to communicate is one of the major problems -- be mature!
- Writing Delays.
Students can be frustrated when they hand their supervisors a chapter or two of write-up, which it took them a few hours to write, and find that it takes the supervisor several days or even weeks to read, correct and return it. Other students find it impossible to start writing. Don't wait until you are finished designing, programming, testing, debugging, etc., to start writing. Go to the Barker Engineering Library and read theses similar to yours for good ideas about presentation, tone, etc. Develop a detailed outline with lots of notes, a list of figures, a reasonable format (there's no single correct format), bibliography. Draft an introduction and first chapter. Listen carefully to your supervisor's suggestions for revision. Don't wait until it is 90% written to show it to your supervisor. Take at least the first chapter to the EECS CommunicationLab or the Writing and Communication Center for analysis and assistance.
- Lack of Discipline and Time Management Skills.
Working on a thesis may be different from anything you've done while at MIT; for four years you may have had nothing but short, specific and discrete tasks due at short-term intervals. With the thesis there is a final deadline, a term or more away. This requires a different kind of self-discipline. MAKE A SCHEDULE. Write out a detailed, ordered list of tasks that have to be done, allowing for the inevitable delays and other commitments, and aiming not for the final deadline, but for a week or so earlier. Set specific short-term deadlines and be a hard taskmaster. If you find your hours, days and weeks melting away to no effect, take early action. Note that supervisors will expect a first draft of the thesis document well in advance of the deadline.
- Use the MIT Barker Library.
Barker is eager to help thesis students at every stage of the thesis project. The library can help students to approach topics, to perform on-line searches, and to assist with indexes, abstracts, and citations.
- Funding and Special Equipment.
If you need special computer accounts or equipment for your thesis, ask your thesis supervisor. If your work is for a sponsored research project or an academic subject, there are funds which should pay for necessary equipment. The use of Department laboratory kits is discouraged. The Department has little or no funding available for general thesis support.
If You Just Can't Finish.
If you're going to miss the deadline, not by hours or days, but by weeks or months, sit down with your supervisor and agree on what exactly has to be done. Get off the degree list, arrange for housing for extra time, and keep going. It is very difficult to complete a thesis long distance or while working. Students who are sure they have only a few weeks of work left end up graduating several terms later. A few walk away with only the thesis remaining, let that thesis get "old and cold," and get their degrees years later, if at all. Don't let this happen to you!