Doing a dissertation in the time of coronavirus
Disclaimer: this might end up being a bit of a rant, but it’s primarily aimed at informing you about what a dissertation is, and how I’ve been coping with it during COVID-19.
I chose to do a dissertation in my final year because I hope to pursue postgraduate study – an MA, and hopefully, a PhD. I thought that doing a dissertation would (rightly) give me a deeper insight into the world of research. Sure, we all have to research and read around for our essays, but a dissertation, at a whopping 10,000 – 11,000 words (for language students at least) is more about researching a topic – a wider field, if you like – to the extent where you become well-versed in that discipline. It’s about answering questions that are broader than what you might expect from an essay – my dissertation has a title, and several key questions informing it, as opposed to answering one question or topic.
Since I did a module on French Presidents and the Media in my second year, I’ve been fascinated by media policy and media performance. When I was on my Year Abroad working as a journalist in Mauritius, former president Jacques Chirac died – and so, I thought it would be a good topic to study for a dissertation!
Now a dissertation is hard anyway. For most people, it’s the first time they’ve undertaken a project of that magnitude. What I find weird, is that I’m writing paragraphs – chapters even – without a clear thesis statement. However, imagine doing it under the restrictions of coronavirus. If you’re currently doing a dissertation, then I hope this can be a reassurance for you.
I’m going to be completely honest with you. I’m really struggling. Doing a project like this without the ability to go out and see friends (I don’t really have many at home) means I don’t have a social break as I usually would – so the stress is a bit high.
Secondly, there is a practical issue – accessing the library. As you might imagine, doing a dissertation can lead you in all sorts of directions, to all sorts of resources that might not be on a reading list. Whilst the library has made great efforts to place more materials online, and there is currently a postal loan system in place, you might be able to understand the difficulty faced by dissertation students if they can’t access a certain resource, or if that resource takes a longer time than expected to arrive.
There is a contingency for this. For language students at least, there is a Covid Cover Sheet, which you can fill out if you feel that your project has been compromised in any way. If you are doing a dissertation with another department, it might be worth checking with your department if there is a similar measure in place.
However, I know there’s nothing that is going to help with how you might be feeling right now – trust me, I really do. In that case, I would encourage you to speak to friends who might be doing a dissertation. Reach out to your personal tutor and see what advice they might offer you, or speak to the Wellbeing services. At the end of the day, this is a really weird time to be doing a dissertation, and people will understand that.
A practical tip that might help you is making clear chapter plans. I’ve tried that as a new way forward, and I found breaking up my chapters into little sections makes it seem a bit more manageable and a lot less daunting.
Talking, and finding some sort of outlet (I’m not going to lie, I’m struggling with that part – but walks seem to be helping) can be really helpful when it comes to dealing with a large project in such extraordinary circumstances. As long as you keep those things in mind, the project will hopefully seem easier.
Take care, stay safe!