Disclaimer: this is not to add to your stress if you’re doing a dissertation! I’ve decided to share where I’m up to and how I’m feeling so you can read something relatable, or maybe pick up a new tip. If you’re stressed, you certainly aren’t alone (and that’s a fact – because I’m stressed too!)
For anyone out there that’s yet to do a dissertation, if there’s one thing you take from this diary then let it be this – pick a topic you’re really passionate about and interested in! It took me so long to pick a topic, but in hindsight I’m glad it did – it’s such an important step. I’m finding a dissertation tough, but the one thing that keeps me on task and motivated is my passion and interest in the topic I have chosen. I’ve had to do so much reading and analysis, but it’s made easier by the fact I like learning about my chosen subject. You spend so much time and effort on your work, you need to make sure you enjoy it and will take pride in it.
Similarly, it’s a good idea to play to your strengths as well. I suppose that goes hand-in-hand with enjoying the topic, because if you enjoy it then you’re more likely to be good at it. Last year, I did a research project and as a part of this I did some discourse analysis. I did well on the project and scored highly on the analysis, and so I played to my strengths and I am doing discourse analysis again in my dissertation; it’s the method I find most enjoyable and it’s something I think I’m pretty good at. This is an aspect of my dissertation I quite enjoy, despite the stress!
The most challenging thing for me so far has been the time-balancing coupled with the pressure. It’s your final year and everything counts more, so the pressure is heightened. Then you still have other module assessments and readings to contend with whilst tackling your biggest project yet – your dissertation. It’s sometimes overwhelming when you look at the week ahead and the things you need to do. When I feel this overwhelmed, I sometimes struggle with staying motivated. However, I’ve found creating daily to-do lists help, and also saving Sunday as a day of no work also helps to get refreshed again before a new week.
It’s now been five months since I started my dissertation project. This time five months ago I was in the process of selecting a topic, and now I’m looking at the next approaching deadline which will be for my first draft in a couple of months. In the past five months I’ve picked up some tips and tricks that have helped to make the process that little bit easier. Hopefully by sharing these, they may be of use to fellow students contending with their dissertation and the pressure it brings!
Plan your meetings in advance
Dissertation meeting time is precious. On my course, we’re allowed 6 x 30 minute meetings with our supervisors, and so it’s important not to waste any time. If I have something I want my supervisor to look over, such as a plan, referencing list, or a draft, I email it to them at least 5 days prior to our meeting so they can read it before we meet. This saves time in the meeting; they don’t have to read it whilst you’re sat in their office and instead the time can be better spent providing feedback and asking questions. I’ve also found it useful to list what I would like to discuss, and the questions I’d like to ask before I go. It’s also a good idea to ask your supervisor at the end of each meeting what you should have completed for the next time you see them. This keeps you on task and working at a good pace that you know your supervisor approves of.
Try not to do too much all at once
Everyone works differently, but for me if I try to do too much all at once I end up losing focus and I burn out. I am more productive when I spread my time out and focus on my dissertation for a set time every day. This could be a morning, before moving onto something else in the afternoon. Or it could be just a couple of hours before I head to a lecture. It all depends on what stage you’re at and how best you work. I find this is best when you’re at a stage where you’re reading a lot of material. After a certain point my concentration decreases, and so I find I’m more productive if I split my time rather than trying to contend with a lot of work in one go.
Reference as you go along
We’ve all been there – a deadline is approaching, you’re yet to make a reference list but you can’t find the source / link you used, or whatever notes you did make no longer makes sense. Because a dissertation is such a lengthy project, you’re bound to use more references than you would for a standard essay. I’ve found it useful to keep a Word document of all my references as I go. These are all correctly formatted too to save me time later. Just keep checking it and updating it to make sure you don’t miss any references out or accidentally keep references in that you are no longer using.