Probably the most daunting word in the vocabulary of university degrees, the dissertation is rarely looked upon with glee and excitement. After months of structuring, writing, reviewing, re-writing and editing, finally submitting the finished 10,000 words back in April was such a great feeling. And recently finding out I got a first for it was all the more rewarding. Even though it was a long process that wasn’t always smooth sailing, it brought me so many important life skills and, rather than killing my enthusiasm, it has in fact heightened my interest in the topic that I was studying.
My first word of advice, and one that I wish I had taken on board more seriously: get cracking with your dissertation as early as you can. Over Summer and during the first few months it feels as though you have ages until the deadline, but time will fly and starting the planning and the research early will save you a lot of stress in the last few weeks.
Make sure you pick a topic that you find both interesting and enjoyable. Unfortunately, no matter how much you love your topic, there will be moments when it becomes a bit repetitive. But try to combat that by making the research side of the project fun for yourself. Don’t limit yourself to books and articles, watch documentaries, films, go to events and interact with others. Since my dissertation was within the field of African American poetry, during Black History Month I really made the most of all the literary events going on around the university and it made me engage with the topic so much more!
Although it sounds like a nagging-mum thing to say, give yourself a timeline/schedule and try to stick to it. If you organise your time correctly and set your own deadlines for different parts of your dissertation, it will really help your project come together. Make sure you schedule some rewards into your timetable as well! My friend and I would pencil in afternoon tea dates as an incentive and treat for the work we had completed.
We would also use our afternoon tea dates to read through each other’s work and give each other feedback. This is something that I can not stress the importance of enough; use your tutors and use your peers, particularly your tutors. Even though it can be a little demoralising handing them a piece of work and getting it back with hundreds of annotations and comments, your tutor is there to help you make the project enjoyable and rewarding and also to help you get the best mark possible. I cannot thank my tutor enough for all of her help and her guidance throughout the process!