Dissertation advice from someone who didn’t want to write a dissertation
I will start today’s blog with a shocking revelation. (Which I have already given away in the title.)
It was never my plan to write a dissertation. Part of the reason why I was so drawn to studying Politics and International Studies (PAIS) at Warwick was that writing a final year dissertation isn’t compulsory.
Heading into my final year, my intention was to select three taught modules, in addition to our compulsory unit on political theory.
However, even the best-laid plans can go awry. Due to the pandemic, a couple of modules I wanted to take fell off the University’s offer list, which meant I had to adapt.
So, fast-forward seven months and here we are. At the time of writing, I have around 50 days to finish my dissertation – which, without boring you with the details, is about Brexit.
As a reluctant dissertation writer, I wanted to offer some thoughts about what taking the module is like. Before I get into this, it’s important to remember that my entire dissertation experience has happened during the pandemic. We’ve had two lockdowns since I started and I still haven’t met my supervisor in-person. Your experience will be different to mine.
It’s been a strange year – but here are three notes I want to pass on.
Your topic will change
Back in October, I wanted my dissertation to be a comparison of Euroscepticism in Germany and the UK. Within weeks, I dropped the plan and instead wanted to focus solely on the UK. After that, I proposed an initial title to my supervisor. I quickly came to realise that it was a rubbish title.
The point that I’m trying to make is that your first idea will probably be completely different to where you end up. It’s all part of the process – and is something that will help you land on the right idea.
As I alluded to at the start of the blog, I committed to writing an essay at short notice. My advice to future dissertation writers is to spend some time over the summer thinking about what you want to research. If you have a rough idea of what your dissertation is going to be about before you start, it will make the first month of term a lot easier to navigate!
Supervisors are there to help you
At the start of the module, we had a lecture that ran through what to expect from this year. The module director explained how often we should speak to our supervisor and what kind of things we should ask them about.
A dissertation is completely different to the other modules on offer. Rather than attending weekly lectures and seminars, you find an academic in the department to work with on a one-to-one basis. You meet up with them a couple of times each term, where they give you advice on your work.
The bottom line is that the department wants you to do well – and that your supervisor is there to help you. If you get stuck, reach out.
Start writing early
I found the idea of writing a dissertation incredibly intimidating until I hit the 3,000-words. Once you have words in the bank, it’s easier to picture finishing the work. With that in mind, I encourage you to start writing early.
I wish I started tapping away at my keyboard a couple of weeks sooner than I did! Doing so will help you get over dissertation block and set you up for a less stressful second term.
Writing a dissertation is a big task – but it’s one that you’re up to. The most important thing is that you write about something that interests you. It’s a lot of work but it’ll be worth it once you get over the finishing line.
My next task for today? You guessed it. Writing my dissertation. See you next month!