Avoiding Diss-aster

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It may have felt as if the whole of your university life has been overshadowed by the looming spectre of the dreaded d-word. Alternatively, a dissertation (yes, we’re not talking about drugs or dishcloths at this juncture) may not have registered on your horizon until nigh on its completion deadline. Either way, it seems to cause a great deal of stress and anxiety – whether due to a sense of impending dread or a laissez-faire attitude landing you well and truly in caffeine-fuelled all-nighter territory. It’s time to take a step back and evaluate just why it casts such a pall over proceedings. Perhaps it should be viewed in proportion to the rest of Part II, instead of being accorded an undue amount of trepidation or a disproportionate allocation of time and effort.

Much like the appreciation of a microwaveable meal, or learning to tolerate the regular 2am cacophonous racket from the flat above, a dissertation is now a quintessential aspect of a university student’s rite-of-passage experience. Though not all courses demand one to be taken as a module (particularly if you are undertaking a combined major scheme), the majority of students across the country will have to knuckle down and punch out 10,000 words or more before their final year is through.

The schedules vary between departments, though I would personally recommend trying to get at least some work under your belt over the summer before the year you are to embark upon your project. My department introduced the dissertation very early on – the Lent term of the second year – but others don’t intend for you to get to grips with your research and analyses until you’ve returned after the summer. Still, it’s always a good idea to map out some preliminary thoughts and ideas if you can, not least because this should ease some anxiety about the magnitude of the task. Getting an initial impetus is often the hardest part, so getting stuck in before you have the added pressures of third-year essays and reading lists to contend with leaves you one step ahead of your own potential panic.

Whilst you should, of course, treat all your modules with due diligence, the dissertation need not take more credit than it deserves (pardon the pun). In most cases, it will be worth one eighth of your overall degree classification, so even achieving a lower grade than you would have ideally preferred does not automatically spell disaster for your final qualification. I reiterate: do not panic!

Set yourself rough targets for when you want to have achieved certain tasks. Try to define your objectives as clearly as possible to yourself from the outset in order to give yourself (and your writing) focus and clarity; however, do not be worried if you find that you need do adapt your research question(s) or change your focus. Remember, this is to be process of refinement and of adaptation to the findings of your research, analyses or experiments.

It really is amazing just how many things demand your urgent attention when you’re supposed to be devoting time to your undergraduate magnum opus, for example laundry, Facebook, the washing up, Facebook, writing Features articles for SCAN, Facebook and unclogging the plughole. This is why it is essential that you choose your topic carefully and be sure to select an area that you know will hold your interest for at least the next six months. When you’re working on something that genuinely captures your imagination or piques your intellectual curiosity, you’ll find the available word-count diminishing at an alarming rate. After all, most students find cutting their final draft down to size the hardest part.

So, don’t fret. Your dissertation might seem scary, but it’s worth viewing it in proportion; it constitutes only as much as any other module. Keep calm and stay on track, and remember – DON’T PANIC.

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