Anonymous is a fifth-year MD-PhD student at McGill University. Before beginning his dual-degree program, he completed an engineering degree. His research interests include medical imaging analysis and medical informatics. His research involves modeling the way the brain changes naturally over the life span.
This chapter presents a brief overview of a doctoral thesis and provides useful tips and suggestions on the writing process. During thesis writing, the steps detailed in the past few chapters, particularly Chapter 11 (“Defining Your Project”), Chapter 12 (“Maximizing Research Productivity”), and Chapter 15 (“Completing Your Project”) are integrated into a final product. MD-PhD students should read this chapter before beginning the PhD phase of the dual program, because the advice given here is more useful the earlier it is adopted.
The thesis supervisory committee exists to provide constructive criticism to the student throughout the PhD. Their importance was also addressed in Chapter 11, and for good reason; they should be enriching your project practically from start to finish. The full committee is composed of the student’s thesis supervisor(s) and one or more additional faculty members. Students should choose committee members who have sufficient knowledge of the field to provide meaningful insight and advice; sufficient availability to attend annual progress tracking meetings and provide feedback on papers, the thesis proposal, and the thesis itself; and who do not possess a conflict of interest with the thesis supervisor(s) or the student.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Follow your school’s specific guidelines for the structure of your thesis.
Write early, write often.
Choose a citation-management software.
Keep your reference list up-to-date, starting from your initial literature review.
Don’t neglect yourself: make time for friends, family, and fun, and stay active.
Choosing committee members with complementary knowledge and background is a sound strategy. For example, having a clinician on the committee can help your thesis have a well-planned clinical applicability. A faculty member from the MD-PhD program should also serve on the thesis supervisory committee. Their job will be to ensure that the unique circumstances of the joint program are known to the committee members (such as the transition from full-time PhD studies to full-time clinical studies at the end of the third or fourth year of graduate studies).
In addition to providing constructive criticism and feedback on papers and the thesis, the committee also evaluates the academic progress of the student and helps to plan specific objectives during each committee meeting. The thesis committee is expected to meet as least once a year. Near the end of the PhD, the thesis committee will also review and approve the thesis.
For my committee, in addition to my two co-supervisors, I chose a clinician, a mentor from the MD-PhD program, and a domain expert. Having a large committee ...