The state of suspension we have been placed under is not exactly conducive to crafting your dissertation. A time mentally reserved as an intensely productive stint now has to take place under lockdown. For many, this has intensified an already daunting challenge.
Lockdown is contradictory to working conditions. This contradiction begs puzzling questions for students across the board. How do I find motivation in what feels like a meaningless world? How can I be productive in an unproductive environment? How do I keep positive when surrounded by negativity?
Big questions, with subjective answers. Yet I feel as though I have emerged from the worst of the psychological strain coronavirus has to throw at me. Whilst the sun is shining and the dust somewhat settled, I’ll share my current strategy for smashing any dissertation under quarantine.
First up, maintaining a healthy perspective on the importance of the thesis helps. For many degrees, it’s considered a deal-breaker. As a large slice of your final mark, it has the power to boost or sink students between grade margins. As a History student, the only hope I have of securing a first is a healthy dissertation mark.
Coronavirus has plunged millions of students into a negative mindset, especially finalists. At a time of High stakes there’s no library or face-to-face contact to…. a deadly cocktail indeed! Twitter is awash with declarations of how damaging the circumstances are to students awaiting graduation. I must admit, I got swept away in this thinking. However, it led to more time worrying and less time working. Now that students have successfully pressured and petitioned for deadline extensions, mitigation, and a no-disadvantage policy, we can take a step back and breathe.
More than ever, students need to remain positive about their predicament. An often-cited antidote to negativity is gratitude. Noticing the small yet positive things which happen to you each day is linked to an exhaustive list of health benefits. Higher levels of optimism, lower levels of stress and depression, better physical health and stronger immune system response are all correlated with inducing gratitude.
I’ve seen countless online mindfulness gurus express the importance of writing down three things you’re thankful for each day. At the moment however, this might seem trivial to many. It appears that this virus has exposed the abstract nature of our socio-economic systems. Humans have a wonderful ability to believe in shared fictions (religions, nations, and money) that become part of our very fabric and how we function as a society.
But, what’s the point of graduating and pursuing a career if something like this makes us see just how fragile our systems are? And, just as the jet-setting executives are discovering that their one-off meetings in far flung destinations aren’t as essential as they once seemed (Zoom anyone?), I wondered too if my dissertation was ‘non-essential’. As this thought spiralled and I wondered if all University work was meaningless, I knew I had to find a way to counterbalance my feelings. So, I thought of some practical reasons to keep my dissertation approach grounded and grateful.
The level of freedom that thesis writing entails is huge. Now, this type of freedom might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but when compared to a rigid 9-5 job, it’s a cushy utopia. You get to research want you want, where you want, and when you want. The freedom to manoeuvre through texts and expand the mind at will is a privilege that’s hard to come by. It’s a process I’ll look back on fondly through my rose-tinted spectacles.
Many become bogged down in the monotony of the process. My solution to this: don’t lose sight of the initial reason you chose your topic. It might now seem obscure. It might now be lost, but it’s there, lurking. For me, it was researching around a book I read in my second year. The most exciting book of my degree, which represents everything I love about history.
What makes me and fellow students lose faith in what excites them about their dissertation is too much detail – it’s a long and drawn-out process. Yet I’ve come to realise that beauty emerges out of huge doses of hard work. Rich detail is everything and beauty does not stem from randomness, but logic and thorough planning and research. Across all fields, excellence comes from hard work and careful consideration. The satisfaction you’ll feel upon completing your dissertation is thanks to the boredom you felt amidst the never-ending detail.
I’ve spared you the ins and outs of how an effective schedule, regular breaks, and treating yourself all help pave the way to success. For me, the important thing was positively adjusting my state of mind to the pandemic conditions. An optimistic outlook will make the process feel meaningful and bearable – hopefully even enjoyable.