There are certain milestones in your life that pave the way to adulthood (and then right on through to the grave, but let’s not worry about those yet). Each one is surrounded by its own very unique significance. Puberty is a big one of course – though hopefully we should all be over that by now. Then there’s your first kiss. Your first girl/boyfriend. The first time you… you know… fart in front of them (ah yes, I remember my first time – somehow exciting, embarrassing, nerve-wracking and triumphant all at once – and that sense of euphoric relief afterwards when you’ve finally broken that seal is something that you just want to relive again and again and again).
And then there are the more tangible achievements – finishing school, taking your A-levels, passing your driving test, getting into uni.
If you’re reading this, then the chances are that you’ve gone down the academic route and have probably ticked nearly all of those boxes (you might not have decided to learn how to drive yet, which is ok – but if you’re not relaxed enough to pass borborygmic gas in your favourite company yet then you’re being far too polite) and are fast approaching what is perhaps one of the biggest milestones of young adulthood – your dissertation.
You’ve Made It This Far – Now Own It
For those of us who have been lucky enough to pursue academia after we’ve left school, the dissertation, as you will soon find out, is what our whole educational lives has been gearing us towards.
Throughout school we are given specific questions to answer, and we are encouraged to answer them in a very particular way in order to attain the marks and grades that we need to progress. Once we’ve left school, academic scope narrows significantly from perhaps 10 subjects to 3, 4 or 5 – yet still we have our hands held through the learning and even examination processes.
By the time we’re at university, we are pursuing the single subject that has captured our attention and passion the most along our educative journey – and finally we are encouraged into the realm of independent learning.
For most of us, this is indeed a brand new concept – and university lecturers are sensitive to that fact. And so, especially in our first year of uni, though it will tend to extend into the second and even some of the third year as well, it is still very much the case that we find ourselves being guided through the modules, the coursework and other course material. We are told that we are learning independently, but the truth is that we’re not quite there yet. No, what we are doing for the first two thirds of our university experience is learning to learn independently.
And then finally in year 3… they let go.
The stabilisers are removed from the figurative bicycle in question, and we are set free to learn how to balance, to brake, to change gear and accelerate through our essay writing on our own.
It’s Dissertation Time, People!!
For the first time in our academic lives we are not only presented with the opportunity to answer a question completely on our own, but we even get to ask the question.
It’s a daunting moment – not least for this last point alone. All of our educative lives we have been told what to think, how to learn, and what to answer. And now, all of a sudden, the tables have completely flipped and we are being asked to conjure up something entirely new on which to focus our intellectual energies.
It is a milestone indeed. For, when writing your dissertation, you are no longer only a consumer of academic thoughts and theories, but a producer of them.
Your time has come. Are you ready…?
3 Tips To Make Your Dissy A Doddle
So, admittedly, I have raised a rather grand introduction to the significance of the dissertation. But, I don’t want anyone to get confused or worried about what I have said.
It is the moment of your life that carries the most significance, and one that, since you’ve made it this far, you are more than prepared for.
So, before I scare the wits out of you any further, I’m now going to give 3 very actionable tips that you can use to make the process of researching and writing your dissertation go smoothly without causing you too much anxiety, and will hopefully pave the way for you to enjoy the experience, and set you on the best possible path to make your way towards the next milestone, whatever you choose that to be.
Forget everything else – the milestones, the personal significance, the importance for your career path. When it all boils down, all you are doing when you sit down to make a start on your dissertation is writing an essay. And you’ve done this dozens of times before.
There is a rather troubling myth that surrounds dissertations. A lot of students end up thinking that they’ve got to produce something so momentous that it will go down in history as being the piece of writing that altered the beliefs of the human race for good. You don’t have to do this. You’re not trying to change the world. And, even those students who end up with firsts don’t necessarily write anything particularly ground-breaking. All they are doing is taking everything that they’ve learnt throughout their whole schooling history and throwing it into the longest essay that they have ever written (though it’s still just an essay).
Yes, the stabilisers have finally come off. You have now learnt how to learn independently – all your dissertation is doing is proving this. You will still need to follow all the conventions and formalities that you will have had to follow whilst writing all of your essays before this one. No one is in fact asking you to do anything new in a practical sense – just present and argue for something new, in that age-old, tried and tested, well-rehearsed essay format. If you can get this into your mind at the outset, then you will take a huge amount of pressure off yourself, and the words and ideas will come a lot more easily.
Time management is one of the things that can be the downfall of many a student. You’re in your third year now, so you will know already how adept you are at managing your time.
Deadlines can put the pressure on of course – but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I know that if I didn’t have deadlines to work towards then I’d put everything off until the cows come home, and I know many other people who find the very same thing.
You will of course have the big deadline for submission, which might be months away. But that doesn’t mean that because you know you can write 8,000 words over a 24 hour period that you should leave it until the day before to actually start the thing (and you will notice a lot of your fellow students who do actually do that). But, you need to have that first draft done and dusted about 4 weeks in advance if you possibly can. So, ask your friends or your tutors to help you with deadlines. If you team up with a couple of classmates, then you can set deadlines for each other, say, once a week, where you will check over each others’ work for grammar, spelling, referencing etc. and employ a strict rule that if one of you hasn’t turned up with the whole goods, then you will be not be checking over any of their work at all. Tutors should be more than willing to help you along a similar vein as well.
Ok, so you’re supposed to be on your own for your dissertation – but the truth is that tutors will still be on hand to discuss any ideas or concerns you have with you.
If you are using your tutors to help you with deadlines, then those meetings that you have will be the ideal time to talk over how things are going. Remember, your tutors are the on-hand experts in your field, and anything that you have chosen to study in your dissertation they will have likely come across before. As such they will be full of ideas for you, full of texts that they think you should read to help formulate your argument, full of encouragement, support, enthusiasm and advice. Don’t shy away from them. They are there to help you get the best grade that you possibly can. Use them. You won’t feel so isolated along the process either, and trust me, that’s a good thing.
Have you got any dissertation tips for your fellow students? Tweet about them here. Good luck, everyone!!
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