Paul Kei Matsuda

Finishing a Big Project in a Semester

Finishing a master's thesis or applied project is a challenge partly because students often haven't developed strategies for working on big projects--and they have to do it in a semester!

Here are a few pieces of advise I just shared with a group of master's students who are working with me to complete their applied projects (sort of like a mini-thesis):

Do start early and keep at it. It would be so much easier to front load it because—are you ready for this?—you will certainly find yourself doing more revisions than you are probably expecting. But don’t be intimidated—with the feedback from me and encouragements from your peers, you’ll be able to do it. Just don’t give up.

Here are some strategies that have worked for many people:

  • Post a project calendar on your wall so you can see how much time you have left at any given time.
  • Create a project-specific to-do list. (I have a clipboard at my desk just for this purpose.)
  • Set up a few applied project office hours each day just to work on the project. You can (and will need to) work extra hours if you feel like, but commit at least a few hours every day. The key is to make the office hours long enough so you can build momentum but not to make it so unrealistically long that you can’t keep it.
  • Set up a folder on your Google Docs account ( and upload the latest draft at the end of each day. (Name the file something like “ap_2009_01_16.” This would be an excellent way of keeping a back up. When you are ready, you can share your latest version with me and with others in this group.

If you have any questions or concerns, or if you get stuck, feel free to email me or call me on my cell phone any time. Don’t worry that I might be too busy; if that’s the case, you just won’t hear from me ;-) Seriously, I’ll try to respond as promptly as possible—even though my responses may be brief at times.

And don’t worry that I might be disappointed if you emailed me to let me know that you were stuck. I’m here to help. What would really disappoint me would be if you didn’t contact me when you needed help.

This might be helpful to others who are working on big projects for the first time. There are many other strategies, of course. The key is to try different strategies and find out what works best for you.

Obviously, some parts of this is applicable only to my current students. If you are not one of my students, for example, please don't email me or call me on my cell phone when you are stuck with your project. ;-)

Hopefully, you have your own advisor who can play this role for you.

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Last update: January 6, 2008