A reflection on choosing to do a dissertation (i’ve just submitted mine!)
Hello! I hope you are all doing well and that you are staying healthy and safe. Today I’m just here with a blog all about my dissertation, and the fact that it is FINALLY all done and submitted! It definitely feels surreal to have spent so much time working on one piece of work for it to all be over, but I’m really happy with the work that I ended up producing. So, I thought I would just talk through my experience with doing a dissertation as a third year Politics and International Studies student.
When did I decide I wanted to do a dissertation?
Ever since I started University, I always envisioned myself finishing my degree and graduating having produced a dissertation that I was proud of and that was in an area I was particularly passionate about. So, even though it was optional in PAIS , (you get to choose whether you would like to do a dissertation instead of another 30 CAT module or 2 x 15 CAT modules), I was sure from the get go that I would be wanting to do a dissertation. For me, I was really excited by the prospect of embarking upon a big, and independent research study that would enable me to explore the areas that I was truly the most interested in. I felt that it would give me the opportunity to learn independently about the things that I cared about the most, and create a piece of work that actually meant, and argued for, something that I felt strongly about. So, when the time came around to choose my third year options, I didn’t hesitate in choosing the dissertation to fill up 30 of my CATS.
What did I do my dissertation on?
The title of my dissertation was; “Brexit and Bigotry; the co-constitution of migrant and national identity during the Brexit referendum campaign”, and the aim of my work was to answer two central research questions of which were 1) How were the migrant and British national identity co-constituted within the British press in the run up to the EU referendum? and 2) How can this co-constitution be deconstructed? So, it was basically focussed upon how the British press represented and framed the migrant identity within their articles, investigating how this was often grounded with racist and imperialistic rhetoric. To do this, I retrieved articles from The Sun and the Daily Mail (through the LexisNexis database) and utilised the post-structural perspective (a critical theory International Relations) and its discourse analysis to deconstruct the discourse interior to The Sun and the Daily Mail. Largely, my focus was upon how the two identities of the migrant and national identity were antithetically represented in a hierarchical manner, but also how The Sun and the Daily Mail had the power to impose this inferior identity upon the migrant, and establish a discriminatory and degrading dominant narrative. The aim was to encourage people to not take everything that they read within the British press as fact or objective “news”, for nothing can be without distortion and bias.
How did I structure my dissertation?
1. A title page – with my title, student number, details of supervisor etc
2. A page of contents (with all the chapters and sub-headings from throughout the dissertation)
3. An abstract – summarising my dissertation in 100/150 words
4. Acknowledgements – A couple of sentences acknowledging those who helped me throughout the process of my dissertation and throughout my time in undergraduate study
5. A list of abbreviations – All abbreviations I used listed (such as IR, UKIP, Brexit etc)
6. Introduction – Outlining my dissertation and its structure, as well as the research question and aims and general context
7. Conceptual framework – (rather than a literature view) – Outlining the theoretical/conceptual approach that my dissertation utilised, of which was post-structuralist theory. This also spoke about contrasting and complimentary theories, as well as existing literature upon Brexit, identity constitution and discourse analysis of the British press.
8. Methodology – Outlining the methodology of my dissertation. This included more information on my use of the post-structuralist perspective of the potential limitations of the theory, as well as my use of qualitative research, adopting a thematic approach and how i selected my sample etc.
8. Analysis – This was one of the main sections of my dissertation, whereby I utilised the discourse I had selected from The Sun and the Daily Mail and conducted thematic post-structural discourse analysis upon how the identities had been co-constitutively, and antithetically, represented.
9. Discussion – Here I further discussed the findings of my analysis, including how the deconstruction of the discourse had taken place, as well as exploring the dangerous nature and power of language. I then spoke about how my research complimented previous research, and evaluated the research process as a whole.
10. Conclusion – Here I concluded my dissertation and my findings, as well as speaking about the implications of my research and recommending areas for further study.
11. Bibliography – listing all my references
12. Appendix – listing the articles I retrieved from the LexisNexis database
How did I find the writing process of my dissertation?
The writing process was definitely quite demanding, and it’s undoubtedly challenging working for so long on something independently. It was, however, a really interesting and enjoyable experience to research and focus upon such an interesting area for so long, and to really go into every detail that I wanted to. I think I found the key to the writing process to be making sure I had my own deadlines for when each section should be completed, so that everything was done in time and I was able to stay on top of everything.
Would I recommend doing a dissertation?
I think a lot of things should come into your dissertation on whether or not you decide to do a dissertation (if your department offers the choice).
1. Is there an area you are particularly interested in and would like to explore further?
2. How do you do in coursework and assessed essays compared to exams, do you think you would do better if you were able to take more exams?
3. Are there other modules that are really important to you to take? (whether you need them for the future or it’s just something you don’t want to miss out on – although, you could always write your dissertation within the topic of that module)
4. Do you think you’ll be able to study independently for an extended period of time?
For me, as I previously mentioned, I was always sure that I wanted to do a dissertation. I would also strongly recommend doing a dissertation, if you feel that it would suit you, for it is a fantastic opportunity to really develop your own academic voice and produce a substantial piece of work that you can be proud of. I think it’s also a really nice note to end your university years on, and a nice thing to take away with you. For me, I really treasured the opportunity to delve further into the areas of what I had learnt within PAIS over the last few years that I felt I wanted to expand upon more. I realised throughout my progression of the course, that I was passionate and interested in International Relations specifically, with the critical theories of IR and security studies being my particular areas of interest. Thus, being able to explore this further on my own accord and investigate the areas that I was interested in the most, was a thoroughly enjoyable opportunity. I must admit, I am normally far more of an exam sort of a person, but doing a dissertation was always something I was set on. Let’s just hope I did ok!
Thank you for reading. If you have any dissertation related questions (or anything else), feel free to comment below or drop me a message! I will also be uploading a video to my video diaries series in a few days (and posting it on here) that will be all about my dissertation & what tips I would give to anyone doing a dissertation.