Sunday, 27 March 2016

The truth behind the dissertation.


A word all university students greet with a grimace, a tear or another pint to fog over the idea that they all, at some point, will need to endure its torturous ways.

But for all you 'non-students', or even first years who might not be aware of what it is, here's a brief explanation. 
A dissertation is, in essence, a study you carry out in order to discover something new or develop an idea further within a certain discipline. 

For example, it could be looking into why a certain drug could be used to treat x as well as y. It could be a study into why a certain equation can be used to discover something different than to what it was being used for before. It could be why a new piece for an engine could reduce pollution.

It could be literally anything, as long as it's relevant to your field and degree and is looking to do something slightly original. 

My dissertation title is 'How to create a mad man. A Cognitive Stylistic Analysis of No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy' - sounds fancy right?

Well, it isn't really. The gibberish in the title is simply saying that I'm using certain theories to look at how language within a certain novel can be used to create an antagonist who is either unique or 'mad'. The reason why it sounds more complicated is explained below.

The first thing you will realise about dissertations is that they sound a lot more sophisticated than they actually are - this being if you're someone who has read academia before and not completely new to an academic field. 

When you have a lecture about writing a dissertation, the first thing they will throw at you is example titles, simply to give you a little idea of how they can sound.

When you first read the titles you immediately think you're well out of your depth at uni and that you have no idea how you could possibly create a title that could sound anywhere near as sophisticated and mind-meltingly confusing.

Well, it turns out you can and quite easily too. Don't be intimidated by what others have done when you won't be doing what they did, this being the whole point of the project. 

The title is all yours and you can be as creative as you like with it. As long as it gives a brief overview to what it is about, then it will be fine. The title isn't the important bit remember!

The second thing you will realise is that you will have learnt so many theories from all sorts of fields, for example I've done literature, language, and creative writing modules, and that you need to pick just one.

It feels like when someone says give me the name of any animal and for a second you go 'err ermm what?' But in this case it's much, much worse. 

Some people will know exactly what they want to do but the majority will be completely terrified at the thought of picking ONE specific field when they've done more than they'd like to remember. 

My tip for this is to simply pick a subject or area of study you've done well at before. If you're better at doing one thing more than another, you will probably find you'll enjoy it more or at least do better at it. 

The third thing I've come to realise is that dissertations are very very independent projects.

Yes, you'll have a supervisor who will assist you in the process but really they will expect you to not need them too much. You will have by this time done 2 or maybe 3 years of study prior to your final year dissertation. You will have by this time understood how to find books, journals, and articles that are relevant to your field. You will know how to correctly reference them. You will know how to write up an academic essay. And you will know how to apply the theory or idea that you're working on to some level. 

The whole idea of a dissertation is to use up the three years of studying you've done and apply it to your maximum capability. That means sitting down on your lonesome in a library with nothing but a pen, paper and numerous books and articles to give you company.

The final and most important thing I've realised about dissertations is that regardless to what I've said prior, it really isn't as bad as you initially think it is.

University is full of work and essays and tasks and whatever they can cumber up to be a pain in the arse. But in the end a dissertation is just a double, maybe triple sized piece of coursework - this being that most dissertations are 10,000 words but this can vary depending on course. 

I'm used to doing 3,500 word essays for my lecturers. Granted they're not the most enjoyable pastimes but this isn't to say they're not doable. 

Before you actually embark on your project you will probably have this idea that a dissertation is a gargantuan project that will require 3 hours of solid work every night for about 6 months. 

This is not true.

To be absolutely honest, I could do my dissertation to a very average quality in about 3 10 hour days of work. 

Obviously I'm not going to do that and will do a few hours every few days to just keep eating away at the workload. 

This idea that dissertations are impossibly difficult projects that will take over your life is simply not true. Yes, they will take over your life for a few hours every few days but so do other things. 

Don't fear the dissertation. You will be the one who creates it and the one who will develop it.

It's the most controlled piece of work you'll ever do. 

Just make sure you do the work and not leave the whole thing for a week prior!

Do that and you could be well and truly f.....

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