Third years in the geography department have been a little stressed in the past couple of weeks as on Tuesday we had a dissertation deadline. It was a formative deadline, which means it does not count towards our final grade, but it is an important opportunity to get feedback on our work in order for us to make improvements before it is finally submitted.
We were asked to hand in an analysis chapter (our results and a discussion of them), which means different things to people doing as the topics we are studying are really varied. I’m not entirely sure how the results section works for my human geography colleagues, but I have a good idea of what it means for us physical geographers. I, for example, am completing a dissertation using remote sensing. This means that for the last few weeks I have been working on the computer using remote sensing software to extract information from satellite images, before computing some statistics on the results. This is a pretty similar process for the students completing a GIS-based dissertation, although they may have to do less statistical analysis.
The other type of dissertation (as opposed to computer-based) is one where the students collect samples of something (e.g. soil) during fieldwork over the summer, before analysing them in the lab during term time. A few of my friends are doing this, and are spending a lot of time in the labs at the moment (whenever they talk about it, it goes mostly over my head, as I’m not very fond of lab work myself!) It’s a great way to improve your lab skills, and the analysis of results is usually more statistical than for more theory-based topics.
So there’s a massive variety of topics you can study in your dissertation, which allows you to choose something you are more likely to enjoy working on. The way the geography department organises our dissertations is pretty good I think. In March of second year, we are sent a questionnaire to fill out on the broad topics within geography that we enjoy, which then helps the department assign you to a dissertation supervisor who works in your field of interest. You can then develop your idea with them before handing in a proposal in early May. This is good because your proposal is returned before the end of second year, so by the beginning of the summer holidays you know what you are doing, which is particularly important for those students completing fieldwork during the summer holidays.
It also means we hand in our dissertation at the end of February as opposed to in the middle of May as is the case in other departments – which means you are more able to focus on the remaining coursework/exam revision we have before the end of the year. So it’s a pretty good way to organise the system, and takes the stress off you a bit at the end of the last year of university, which I’m sure we will all be grateful for in a few months time!