So, this post was definitely not written to trigger fear. It was mainly inspired by the fact that my brain is rarely occupied by anything else nowadays! As a final year student, my last year at university is characterised by my third year project which is comprised of a dissertation on my topic of choice. If you run into a Biological Sciences final year at the library, you can bet a pound that their furious typing on the university keyboards is not because they are angry, more that they feel a passionate drive to complete their projects. So if you can, pass them a warm, comforting smile.
Returning to the ‘not-meant-to-terrify’ aim, I just thought I’d type up a short post about how to handle dissertations, but also any extended writing projects in general. As a first-timer to pieces of writing this length, there are definitely very tangible differences in the way I have handled (and am continuing to handle) this compared to other assignments. It is interesting to reflect on it and even though it is still an ongoing process, I thought it would be worthwhile writing a post on how I’ve found it so far.
- Planning is a lifesaver
To be honest, with any assignment, any project, any task – planning is the key to success. With a project like this, it is easy to lose motivation because it is long-term. These projects run over several terms, so it is important to have some tick-list of aims to keep your spirits up and to keep you on track. For dissertations, the difficulty is always getting the reading completed so make sure that this is organised before anything else. This refers to the fact that you know what you are looking for, and where, as there is literally so much out there to read up on! In terms of how to best plan, every person has their own way: list, group studies, notifications on the smartphone. Whatever works for you!
- Pre-planning is a lifesaver
Choose a project that you find interesting. This applies across the board with the module choices you make as well. In terms of the 3rd year project, so much work and thought will go into this so make sure it is a topic you will grow to love and nurture. I understand that it is always a tad challenging to imagine what it would actually be like. The best thing to do is send messages to the relevant people, whether that would be the supervisor (or in terms of modules, a lecturer) to ask any questions that you might find helpful in informing your choice.
- Sleeping and downtime are lifesavers
Too many people I know are slacking a tad in this department. You might be too! If so, please try and catch an extra hour or two a night as it does wonders for productivity and energy levels. Plus, take a neuroscience module or two and you will grow to understand the potential detrimental effects on the body when you don’t get enough sleep. Alongside this, third year as a whole can be extremely consuming and tiring, so having downtime has been helpful for me to cope with the workload. Downtime can include watching soaps, indulging in K-dramas, and basically any television-related activities that can keep my mind slightly occupied.
- Not panicking over word counts is a lifesaver
Lastly, a handy tip that my course convenor gave me was this: “write all that you need to say first, slaughter it into smithereens later!”. When you’re writing a large report, it is definitely easy to get into the habit of obsessing over reaching word-counts and missing out on the importance of detail and analyses (which harbours most of the marks in a scientific piece of work). So don’t fall for that mistake. Although, I do find that using word counts is useful as daily targets to hit at the beginning of the writing process!
Anyway, that is me for this week. Back to the dissertation I go (wish me luck!)