Surviving your Dissertation
So maybe this is a little pre-emptive of me considering that I haven’t actually submitted my dissertation yet, and am still a little way off of doing so, but I’m on a bit of a high as I recently finished the first full draft of it, so I thought I would talk about my experiences so far.
‘Dissertation’ is one of those words that is never used in any other context than at university, so it’s a bit bewildering when it’s suddenly a part of your life. I remember my cousins being in their final year at university and the word being bandied around family gatherings – ‘oh I’m so stressed at the minute, my dissertation is taking up all my time’ etc etc, but honestly, I had absolutely no idea what they were talking about until I came to university, and even then it was just this vague thing on the horizon.
It becomes a lot simpler when you straighten it out: all a dissertation is is a long essay on a particular subject, researched and written independently with occasional supervision from an expert (ie a tutor assigned to you). That doesn’t sound so scary anymore, right?
I’m very lucky in that my course allows me to do a creative writing version of a dissertation, which we call a Personal Writing Project (because it’s a project you’re writing that’s personal to you – makes much more sense than the vague word ‘dissertation’, doesn’t it?). Anyway, my PWP consists of 8,000 words of original creative writing, and a 2,000 word accompanying essay discussing the aims and processes of writing it. You don’t have any set teaching time for a dissertation, so it’s up to you to meet with your supervisor as and when you need to, and sometimes there are rules surrounding this about how many times you’re allowed to do so. The rest is all down to you…
Some may see that as daunting (which it can be), but it’s also a really exciting opportunity to spend time working on something you’re genuinely passionate about. I have 8,000 words of a novel nailed down – not very much in the grand scheme of things, but it’s still something, and the experience of scrutinising so carefully over it has taught me a lot about editing creative work which I wouldn’t normally take so much time to do, and this definitely puts me in a good position for writing by myself beyond university.
I still have a way to go until it’s done – namely a lot more editing, and I haven’t started the accompanying essay yet, but it feels good to have something tangible to show for the progress I’ve made so far this year, and I’m excited to keep working on it. I’ve had to be really strict with myself, setting weekly targets with my supervisor while I was writing the bulk of the first draft, otherwise it definitely would have been something I’d have kept putting off, but watching the word count go up slowly but steadily was enough of a reward.
I guess what I’m trying to say is don’t let yourself be scared out of your wits by the idea of such a big project. When you break it down, it’s not actually that much bigger than the other essays I write anyway, and you have much longer to work on it. Warwick’s English course is great in that the dissertation (or PWP in my case) is totally up to you, so if you’d really rather not do it, that’s fine, but if you do want to, then the freedom is yours. And it’s a freedom which feels pretty good! (Check back in a few days when I have my latest edits back and my opinion might be a little different, but for now, yay for dissertations!)