Where do I start? Start by falling in love with the art of reading and writing!
- Search your mentor and be a great one when the time comes!
Find a mentor that is available, attentive to your learning process, passionate about her/his work and one that you feel comfortable and inspired working with. Respect the time of those who invest in you and pay it forward when you have the chance! Choose a topic that is attractive to your interests, as you will invest a lot of your time and nerves in it. This is never only about a thesis or a topic, it is about starting your writing journey, building skills and opening to the academic community of researchers. In some way, it is the entry exam to your publishing career, as a researcher. It has the potential to grow an appetite for career development or, in case of a bad experience, it can deprive you of attempting to develop a golden skill that will act as a catalyzer for all your future projects! Here you can find a little inspiration with many tips and tricks to explore this amazing world!
Work and write with integrity
Avoiding plagiarism should not be your only target, especially for that long introduction. Paraphrasing is an art, but even more useful for your mind is the ability to play with concepts and use your own words to express the ideas of other researchers. This will help you gain clarity and on a long term, juggle through ideas and compare/ debate/ relate them to your work. You will be able to implement what you read in your daily practice. The way you will filter/ refer to other researchers’ work will show the respect and acknowledgement you have for your academic colleagues and construct a bridge for future collaborations in the community. In time, your focus will shift from being there to creating value and research ideas will come!
Language is power, use it carefully and purposeful.
Invest in perfecting your English and crafting the art of designing ideas through language. You will develop a writing style during your life and be mindful of it, as it is the way you present your ideas to the world and inspire others to join your research. I am truly passionate about languages in general and I think that if multilingualism is one of your hobbies, you own a great advantage. Knowing how to mold words/ phrases will help you a lot to shine your work and make your readers enjoy discovering it!
I encourage you to become a polyglot by using this method.
The process is messy.
Don’t try to write in a certain order or certain sections/ headings as planned. Follow the flow of your ideas or articles reading. The most important thing is to start reading and taking notes about what you read. Just write it on paper or make an Excel document with the articles (title, year of release, link) and the main concepts/ strengths (methodology, results, graphics, techniques etc). An article will take you to another one or another 5 and you may get lost between endless opened tabs. It is the spongy time of accumulating information capital and getting exposed to different forms of work display regarding style, elegance, clarity, reference quality, graphic design, logical structure, problem and solution solving… and many more.
The key is to organize it while you enjoy the unstructured flow of reading or ideas coming. In this way it will be easier to group articles about a certain topic and access them easily after days, months or even years. Many times your reading/ notes from articles will be reorganized/ restructured as your study is continuously developing and results appear not always as expected.
Use Mendeley for references.
Organize your work, otherwise you will loose precious time on backtracking papers, ideas or citations. Mendeley is a free reference manager and an academic social network. It allows you to track your references after you moved around sections in the text, refresh the counting without mixing them up and, most importantly, the reference style changes with a click when needed. Login, download the Word plugin and discover the article recommendations they will send you via e-mail, all related to the ones you read/ saved in the program. Needless to say it is a wonderful option to access your readings fast. Mendeley is the one I learned about first and it works perfect for me, so I stick to it. It has made my work easier and more effective, but there are many other options, explore them!
Set your thesis structure and required number of pages per heading. In this way, you will not gather too much material for a certain topic as cutting it off/ condensing ideas afterwards will add another struggle on the list while the deadline will be closer and closer… Be time/ resource smart! Also, I would advise you to use the required formatting style (by a journal, your university) or at least the document style you enjoy- decluttering will save your time! For me, personally, it helps to keep my objective in mind and not forget the purpose behind all the work, as it gives me a sensation that the process is growing in front of my eyes. A glimpse of the final aspect keeps me connected to the final goal/ vision and a neat document keeps my mind clear. Just as I love working/ do creative writing in a clean room… to not be distracted.
Understand your tools.
Understand the types of articles and their structure- Systematic review, Meta-analysis, original research papers, case reports… Understand how journals and editors work. Learn about Thomson Reuters, Scimago journal ranking, ISI journals, Quartiles, IF and Hirsch index on Scopus (Here: another blogpost about the topic).
Understand your databases and how to filter your search: Pubmed, Medscape, ResearchGate (use it for accessible article scoring/ citations and reads per article, see the work done by chief departments and get a glimpse of what would be possible for your research), Cochrane (for Systematic Reviews/ Meta analysis), Uptodate (for the latest info/ publications on a subject), Sci-Hub (hacked full pdf articles), Guidelines of the targeted specialty (short texts to navigate through diagnosis or treatment management). I kindly advise you to login on ResearchGate and scroll through the work of the doctors you know, you would like to work with. It is a way to be part of the community even if you haven’t published anything yet. And it will also inspire you to do it, as a published paper connected to your thesis while being a student is a real success!
Work smart, ask for feedback and schedule time to work.
Something is better than nothing, a paragh a week turns into a draft in a few months. Everybody is gifted in something, learn from others and embrace criticism. Be flexible to adjust your work or redo it if you know it can be better. Stop only when the quality level matches you standards or the standards of the journal you picked/ of the specialists that will evaluate your work. You cannot edit a manuscript indefinitely and the next paper will always be better than the last one. Or at least, it should be! Google dox for team projects for real time comments/ editing/ feedback tracking or the tracking function (changes/comments) for regular Word documents are great tools.
Find friends that help you learn and discuss ideas! Seek quality!
This is crucial for your development as this is a long run and you need to be inspired and stay motivated. Find others to learn with and do not forget that we all have an unique set of skills developed at different levels and we have a lot to learn from each other. Search that Ted talk, join that conference and feed your growth! Enjoy the process while you gain knowledge, skills and friends!