What is a dissertation? Lots of people have heard of them, but do they know what they actually are? I was certainly a little bit fuzzy. Anyway, it turns out that, as a third year, one of the delights of my student life is the unrivalled opportunity to write one (and in so doing, find out!).
Confused? Me too!
The first meeting we had about dissertations told us that a dissertation is a detailed literature review. You pose a question and then go and dig through a stack of journals, books, articles (and, yes, probably wikipedia too!) on similar topics that other people have written about until you can find your answer and some evidence for it. You then write this up in 7000 words and submit it. Hopefully for some good marks.
‘Dissertation’ seems to be a code word for ‘living in the library’.
Now, it might seem like I’m not all that enthusiastic about this. In fact, I just find the task a little bit daunting. I’m actually quite looking forward to getting to grips with my dissertation. As you might have guessed by now, I like writing. A lot. This is a superb chance to write. A lot. I also like reading, and after all, they do say that you should ‘read’ for your degree.
I guess Harry Potter doesn’t really count though.
Now to actually choose one. A very nice man came to talk to us about what a dissertation is and how to choose one. Once we’d worked through all the business models he gave us, we finally came to realise that saying ‘I want to do a dissertation on Geochemistry’ is a bit like saying ‘I really want to write a long essay on Biology, the bit of biology about life’ or ‘The bit of history I like best is the bit that happened in the past’. You haven’t really ruled anything out.
Geology. I like the bit about rocks.
So, some tips for choosing a good dissertation/long essay/extended project:
1. Know what subjects in your course you like and which bits you don’t. It helps to make a list, and then you can cross off the ones you don’t want to do and feel like you have made some progress.
2. Having got it down from ‘Geology’ to ‘Palaeobiology’ you can then think about which bits of this subject you like and which bits you don’t. Again, make a list (I like lists). It feels like you are making headway.
3. You now know you want to do a dissertation on Palaeobiology, and that you love vertebrate palaeontology and hate invertebrate palaeontology. So, which bits of vertebrate palaeontology do you find really interesting (e.g. Dinosaurs, early hominids, fossil fish, the first land mammals…)
4. So you want to do a dissertation on dinosaurs. Brilliant! But, alas, still not specific enough. Maybe choose your favourite dinosaur (come on, face it, it’s got to be a T-Rex, right?) and then think about why it was so awesome compared to Triceratops. Or think about why they died out and relate it to now.
5. I have heard tell that the best dissertations have an element of controversy. Make sure there is an either/or element that you can argue in favour of or against.
6. Having chosen your dissertaion topic talk to your relevent lecturers about it, do some research and then sit back and feel smug because you know what you are doing.
7. And then maybe get round to writing it!
So at the moment I am trying to choose my dissertation. I’ll let you know when I’ve thought of something! Anyone got any favourite bits of geology they think I should write about?
Also, this post is slightly under 10% of the length of my dissertation. When its written. Just as a point of interest!