As we move from January into February, the dissertation is beginning to dominate my life, or at the very least, dominate the studying part of my life. I’ve even starting referring to my dissertation as my girlfriend, such is the time and devotion I am attaching to it.
Because I started my dissertation early, I am definitely on track for the mid-May deadline. I already have completed a first draft (albeit it 3,500 words over the word limit), so a significant part of the next 3 months will be spent rewriting, proofreading and completing chapters such as the list of references, abstract and any appendices.
I will spend a few posts at the end of the academic year reflecting on my dissertation and what I’ve learned from the process. But for now, I want to pass on 2 tips which have helped me most over the past year. One is aimed at current 3rd year students. The other is aimed at prospective students or students in their 2nd year.
Current 3rd Year Students: make a week-by-week plan
Even if you feel you are a bit behind when compared with other students, 3 to 3.5 months is plenty of time to catch up and produce a great dissertation. But the time for action is now. A week-by-week plan of what you need to do and when you need to do it by will help keep you avoid leaving everything until the last minute.
How many weeks will it take to finish your dissertation? That really depends on how many hours per week you wish to devote to your dissertation and whether you have encountered problems which need to be corrected. But in general, I would advise leaving at least a month to rewrite, so aim to have the first draft of every chapter finished by 1st April at the very latest. Preferably much earlier if you intend to get at least 60%. And don’t neglect your other modules!
Future 3rd Year Students: choose a topic that you are passionate about
A majority of 3rd year students will tell you that the 3rd year is dominated by the dissertation. If the dissertation interests you and it goes well, the 3rd year is likely to be your best year, especially as you have fewer taught classes to attend and your other modules are likely to be more complex and controversial (and hopefully more interesting). In contrast, if your dissertation doesn’t fully interest you or is not going well, the 3rd year is likely to be stressful and/or boring. That is why choosing a topic that interests you is not enough. It has to fascinate you. It has to enthral you. The research questions you choose to answer must motivate you to get out of bed. So take your time to choose a research topic and a research question(s) that will motivate you for about a year.
What if there is no criminological topic or issue that fascinates you? Then unfortunately you chose the wrong degree.