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Tackling a Dissertation: The Beginning

uczcslo4 May 2016

Photo by skdevitt | Flickr

Photo by skdevitt | Flickr

It’s May and preparation for the dissertation and final proposal begins! Below I will describe the steps to take to feel confident in the next part of the process.

 

1. Re-read your dissertation topic.

Having the Easter break off from studying, I know all too well that it’s easy to forget your exact dissertation title. Therefore I suggest going back to it, reading it, analysing it, and trying to get as much as you possibly can from it. By this I mean cutting it into smaller, more specific questions that you seek to answer.

2. Look at past dissertations.

You may know how to write an essay, but you may not know how to tackle a 12,000 word dissertation. Therefore you need to go to the library (or online) and find dissertations that explore similar topics. I personally am going to read a few of them and pick out any that resonate strongly with me, highlighting points and making notes in the margins about the author’s structure and approach.

3. Figure out your focus.

A 12,000 word limit makes it easy to waffle so it’s important to find a focus and discover what you truly want to find out. Make sure you know the content well enough so that you can build a strong argument. For example, my dissertation focuses on Young Adult films and their relation to their book counterparts. I need to figure out WHAT FILMS and WHAT BOOKS. Should I vouch for ultra successful books such as The Hunger Games? Or others that did not take off so well such as The Mortal Instruments? Or maybe both?

4. Find sources and READ them!

I, like many have a bad habit of skim reading most things I come across and we need to avoid this temptation and actually read everything carefully this time so that we know exactly what the source is saying. Set up a word document and MAKE NOTES under specific categories and subcategories (and remember to include their page numbers)!

5. If it’s a good source, look at the bibliography.

If you find a relevant source then the bibliography is the fountain of knowledge. Check out these sources too and see if any of them also tie in with your work.

6. Consider your survey/interview/test, etc.

Although this may not apply to all dissertations, for mine I’m planning on conducting a large survey and I need to consider how I’m going to reach those people. Ask yourself what you want to know from the research. Are you going to offer an incentive? (e.g. an Amazon voucher in return for their participation). Can you actually reach those people? Who do you want to target most? What do you want to find out? How do you make your results unique compared to data already gathered elsewhere? What questions should you ask?

I’m going to spend a lengthy amount of time on this section! I know that I need to get the survey out ASAP if I want stronger representative and bountiful results but if I don’t have the correct questions then what would have been the point?

7. Start planning the structure.

Introducing a 12,000 word essay succinctly is going to prove a challenge so you need to refer back to those specific questions singled out at the beginning and use them to build your introduction. You do not want to go into the essay full force too quickly so you also need to decide how you’re going to set it up. I think the most suitable approach would be to first define what you are studying. You don’t want to confuse your readers from the outset! I also suggest detailing bullet pointed notes and sources under sub-headings.

8. SPEAK TO YOUR SUPERVISOR!

Stress, confusion, doubt. You need to get confirmation that what you’re doing sounds good. You definitely shouldn’t start writing it until you know that you’re not wasting your time.

9. Get confirmation. Breathe. Begin.

 

I know this step-by-step guide makes dissertations seem too simplistic, but it does help in recognising that this is something not to be rushed. I know a common student lifestyle choice is writing essays a few days before the deadline, but 12,000 words (in my case worth almost half my degree) cannot be rushed and you must power through! Stock up on coffee and chocolate (for those teary days) and maybe when you get through these first steps and write your first word you’ll start to realise it’s not all that bad.

Tips and Struggles from a Commuting Student

uczcslo18 November 2015

Today is the first blog of my blogging series: Tips and Struggles from a Commuting Student. I’m going to start off with basic tips that every commuting student needs to know. Everything I have written below is, of course, written in jest, but is also reality.

 

Photo by: Sarah Louise Osborne

Photo by: Sarah Louise Osborne

1. Accept the fact that commuting may be your future.

Commuting can be tedious and time-consuming. On average, I wake up three hours before my lessons start, and on every commute, I miserably compare the commuting time to the time it would have taken if I lived near campus – which equates to an extra two hours of sleep! In spite of this, I’ve tried to see the positive side of commuting. I’m only at university twice a week, if I complain now, then what is it going to be like when I work in London full-time?

2. It’s a dog-eat-dog world.

When it comes to getting a seat on a train during rush hour, you are more than welcome to frown at the fortunate individual who claims the last seat from under your nose. That is the reality of commuting. If your station is one of the first stops, then you will probably not encounter this problem. However, commuting back from London at 5pm will undoubtedly be the opposite. Sometimes, you may encounter circumstances that do anger you. For example, people using spare seats as laptop stands or foot rests – you are well within your rights to take the seat!

3. Make the most of the commute.

When you’re studying a Masters, working, interning, blogging, and trying to desperately sustain any form of social life, you cannot afford to waste time on a train. Yes, sometimes standing on a train makes it difficult to concentrate, so allow yourself to play Solitaire or Uno on your phone for a while. But make sure this isn’t a regular occurrence! Bring two books (a textbook and a reading book) – the textbook for when you’re determined and energetic, and the reading book for when you need a break. You never know what mood you’re going to be in.

4. Be quick.

Keep your travel card close by at all times. Time spent searching through your bag at a turnstile, wastes everybody’s time.

5. Protect your belongings.

The most obvious piece of advice – keep a close eye on your possessions at all times.

6. TEA or coffee…

Commuting can drain your energy; it can be tiresome staring at the back of a chair for half an hour, so make sure you get a caffeinated drink either before or after the journey. Always make sure you have money reserved for these little necessities!

7. Last-minute homework.

Although I shouldn’t be admitting this, train journeys are great for last minute bits of homework. I don’t mean assignments (I’m not that crazy), but if you really didn’t have time to finish your homework, then train journeys may be your saving grace. They are particularly useful if, for homework (UCL MA in Publishing particularly), you are required to make public observations of reading spaces.

8. Acquiring a cheetah’s stealth.

Once you’re off the train, people will try to jump on the train before allowing you off – this can make you angry. You must therefore adopt the speed, and sneakiness of a cheetah. If you are short like me, then you will adapt quickly. Slip under arms and through the sides of people, and think ahead. Watch out for pedestrians who are about to walk into you. A lot of people march through the station assuming people will dodge them. Avoid slow walkers who think they’re on holiday, and rapidly accelerate in front of them. Sometimes, it can shock you how fast you make it from one side of the station to the next.

9. Comfy clothes are key.

Forget nice clothes! Wear something comfortable and find a balance. Long sleeve tops and jumpers are obviously advisable during winter, but expect to sweat on the underground. Wear comfortable shoes that are easy to walk in. Debate whether laces will negatively impact your speed, or whether a skirt will be awkward on an escalator ride. Always be prepared for all types of weather – after all, this is England.

10. Travel light.

Finally, travel light. If you want to bring your laptop, then sacrifice something else, like a notepad. Half of the time, half of what you bring with you, isn’t used.

 

I hope these few tips are useful for everybody, even if you’re not an MA in Publishing student. If you enjoyed my witty remarks, then please follow us on Twitter @UCLPublishing or via my Twitter @SarahLouiseOs. Bear these tips in mind during Christmas. I can imagine train journeys will be even more hectic, and I’ll follow up with some of my personal, commuting encounters next month!