As you’ll probably all know, the final year of the degree is where things get really, really serious. Particularly given the fact that, for most subjects, you’ll have a 10,000 word dissertation to write alongside assignments from your other two modules.
Since making a start on my initial research for my dissertation over summer, I’ve not really felt like I’m making much progress and it’s been the main source of my worries this semester! As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve had to change my topic idea a number of times for a number of reasons – such as there not being enough primary source material or the sources not being in a language that I can access.
Because I’ve had to shift my research focus a number of times, I did become quite disheartened and worried that I was falling behind others who had confirmed their topics months previously. However, while writing my Progress Report – a short report sent to your dissertation tutor about what you have been thus far – I realised that, although it was frustrating, the dead ends that I came to in terms of topics actually helped me to understand what my project really needed to be constitute viable research.
In the recent weeks I have begun to feel like I’m making real progress. I have chosen to focus on the way that identities and relationships were formed within the Soviet Gulag and how this can help historians to reassess descriptions of the system as ‘isolated’ and ‘destructive’. A structure for how my dissertation will look in May next year is starting to develop in my head and I finally feel like I’m on track.
So whatever year you’re in – here’s some advice, not only regarding dissertations, but also assignments in general. If you’re feeling lost and like you’re going nowhere, don’t give up – keep reading, keep thinking, keep going.
A lot of academic writing is quite hard to get to grips with, so you certainly won’t be the first person to be totally confused about where you’re going to take your assignment. Remember, you’ve got personal tutors and module tutors for a reason – if you really can’t make any sense of it on your own, then take it upon yourself to discuss it with them.
From personal experience, they’re more than happy to help!