Factors that Facilitate or Hinder The Completion of a Thesis/Dissertation

What is it about a dissertation or a thesis that makes or breaks a student? Great students who are eager to learn, prostate who excel at their classes and desire to work in the world of academics are motivated and goal-oriented. And then comes the thesis (or dissertation) and everything stops. I have friends who have been ABD for 10 years. I have friends who get to the thesis component of their MA and flip out of the thesis track and replace it with extra courses. Is there a way to better prepare students so that they not only survive the thesis/dissertation component of their degree but actually enjoy it and flourish from the experience?


Jane Ho, with Lilian and Paul Wong, did a study, Helps and Hinderances to Thesis Completion, looking at what helps and hinders a student in completing their thesis.

Ho’s list of helps and hindrances should be required reading for every student before they enter the thesis/dissertation of their program, as is the list of suggestions for both the student and the supervisor. I summarize them below.


Factors that Hinder Completion of a Thesis:

  • student employment
  • difficulty balancing personal and academic obligations
  • insufficient training for thesis research
  • problems within the thesis committee (including lack of prompt feedback, conflicting and inconsistent feedback, and unhelpful advice.)
  • problems with administrative bureaucracy
  • complexity of the thesis process
  • the time-consuming nature of the research process
  • procrastination
  • Thesis blocking — “a situation wherein the interviewees had (a) finished their graduate coursework; (b) found the experience of working on the thesis more negative than rewarding; (c) according to their own estimates, spent an inordinate amount of time working on the thesis; and (d) considered themselves to have experienced thesis blocking.”


Factors that Help Completion of a Thesis:

  • good working relationship with the supervisor
  • a structured supervisory system which included a written task specification, weekly deadlines, weekly monitoring, weekly feedback, and added incentives.
  • Support from family, friends and fellow students


Suggestions for Students:

1. Set deadlines and stick to planned schedule

2. Manage your time and priority

3. Set goals for and after the program

4. Find support from peers, family and friends

5. Take advantage of available resources

6. Know your learning styles

7. Get to know your professors/supervisors

8. Find meaning in your thesis work

9. Do not procrastinate

10. Read, write and be prepared

11. Resolve conflicts quickly

12. Be organized

13. Exercise self-care

14. Be your own project/thesis manager


Suggestions for Supervisors:

1. Set Goals and timeline with the supervisees

2. Collaborate with other professors

3. Increase research-related courses; decrease irrelevant courses

4. Set up thesis proposal and writing as a course

5. Make resources more accessible online

6. Provide more explanations on ethics approval process

7. Enforce the program guidelines and deadlines

8. Provide opportunity for students to get to know their potential supervisors

9. Provide realistic time frame for the program

10. Minimize the number of supervised students for each supervisor

11. Provide more opportunities to learn from others

12. Provide more accessible resources and better equipment

See: Jane Ho, Lilian and Paul Wong, WHAT HELPS AND WHAT HINDERS THESIS COMPLETION:A CRITICAL INCIDENT STUDY. International Journal of Existential Psychology & Psychotherapy vol. 3 (2010): 117-131.


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