In May I had the pleasure of returning to Leicester University to deliver a presentation to MSc Labour Market Studies students during their Teaching Weekend. Nerves aside, I was excited about sharing the learning from my dissertation experience.
In preparing the presentation one thought immediately came to mind – undertaking the dissertation was like climbing a mountain. Taking one step at a time and breaking it down into manageable chunks enables the completion of the total task at hand in the time permitted.
In this blog I will share with you the highlights of the presentation – “the dissertation experience”. It is my intention to highlight my learnings and challenges and to share some hints and tips. Before I do so, it is important to note that for reasons of confidentiality I will not be disclosing the research question nor will I disclose specific details about the research.
What a good great dissertation looks like
Before commencing the dissertation process I read a number of books to understand what a good great dissertation looked like. In doing so I came across Bell, J. (2010;117) ‘Doing Your Research Project: A Guide for First-Time researchers in education, health and social sciences’, Maidenhead, England. Open University Press (5th edition). Three headline areas within this book enabled clarity of understanding in how to approach the research.
What do I need to know and why? In order to answer your research question you will need to dissect it. This should tell you what you need to know and why.
Your research should have theoretical frameworks underpinning it. In the case of my research these were convergence and divergence, the MNC’s orientations and national culture. The research sought to understand:
- which trend, convergence or divergence, was more prevalent;
- the MNC’s balancing act between standardisation and localisation;
- the complexities of managing a diverse workforce and
- national cultural values and the extent to which they are a contaminant within the MNC
What’s the best way to collect the information? Module 4 covers both the philosophical and methodological approaches to research. Assessing the advantages and disadvantages of all the philosophical and methodological approaches will direct you towards choosing the most suitable approach to collect the information required to answer your research quetsion.
When I have this information, what shall I do with it?
In short, analyse it. Analysing the data you collect will require diligence and focus. It isalso very time consuming.
The approach taken
My research question was formulated before I sourced the company to undertake the research with. In hindsight this strategy was high risk. If you are not undertaking your research with your employer, present a few options to the prospective company for consideration and also be open to alternative suggestions that may be presented. Remember however that the research question must be academically sound and cover a subject area studied on your course.
Keep things simple – I didn’t. I chose three research methods which was a high risk strategy in the time allowed. I had however considered that in order to obtain a full picture of cultural values I needed to obtain both quantitative and qualitative data. Quantitative data was obtained through analysing company documentation and qualitative data was obtained from conducting semi-structured interviews and a focus group.
The sample choice is critical to obtaining the data you need to answer your research question. Make sure that the research sample is therefore aligned to what you are researching. I was fortunate in that my sample was a convenience sample.
Be clear about how the data will be collected and analysed. If you choose more than one research method consider how the data will be presented as a whole. Furthermore, be flexible and be prepared to change your approach. For example, my intention was to utilise content analysis to analyse all the three data sets; I also utilised grounded theory however. I analysed the data from each interview and presented the collective findings of these interviews to the respondents during the focus group; this enabled a focused and in-depth discussion, which in turn provide the data to answer the research question.
The Research Findings
The findings of your research are two-fold:
- What the literature indicates
- What your research highlights
The literature review findings for my research were four-fold as follows:
- The trend of convergence within the global world was considered to be somewhat premature within IHRM
- Divergence prevails because culture is a contaminant within the MNC
- The MNC has a range of orientations; they are ethnocentric, polycentric, regiocentric and geocentric
- Leaders lead through the eyes of their national culture
- Evidence of erosion of national cultural values was discovered (expressed and lived)
- Evidence of the exportation of national cultural values (expressed and lived cultural) was also discovered
- A mixture of both convergence and divergence was apparent. This Brewster (2008) labels “duality”. (Brewster, C., Wood, G. and Brookes, M. (2008) ‘Similarity, Isomorphism or Duality? Recent Survey Evidence on the Human Resource Management Policies of Multinational Corporations’, British Journal of Management 19: 320-342)
Remember to compare and contrast the literature findings with your research findings.
- It is important to be realistic about your dissertation; you have just 6 months to complete it and in reality this amounts to just 4 months.
- If you need to source a company to undertake your research start the process of approaching employers early and use your network to enable you to get a foot in the door.
- If the literature in your chosen subject is limited, chunk-up. What I mean by this is, for example, if you are studying Luxembourg and there is no literature on your subject area aligned to Luxembourg then source literature for Europe and within the literature look for information about Luxembourg.
- When arranging interviews be flexible; remember time zones and respect different cultural approaches to time management.
- Interviewing by telephone can be difficult for three reasons. Firstly, the reception quality may be poor. Secondly, the cost of ringing mobiles abroad can be expensive. Thirdly, English may not be the first language of your respondents.
- Plan for respondents pulling out of the research even after you have conducted your interviews and typed up the transcripts.
Hints and Tips
- Choose a subject that will maintain your interest throughout.
- Choose a subject that you want to learn more about.
- Talk to colleagues, family, friends and the academic employees about your chosen subject in order to ensure it is a sound research topic and to fine-tune your research question.
- Start your literature review early; start gathering appropriate literture when you are undertaking module 4 if not before.
- Start writing early.
- Have a number of proof-readers and assign different roles to each of them, for example, grammar and spelling check, flow of the chapter, cross-referencing, smooth transition from one chapter to the next, etc.
- Critique your own work. Write, re-write- re-write. However don’t overdo this as you will never finish!
Your dissertation is the final part of your MSc studies. Make the most of it,; it will not last forever and you will learn lots if you have chosen wisely.
Re-visiting my dissertation was excellent; it made me appreciate how much I had learned, not only in terms of the content but also in managing the project. To this end, I recommend that from time to time you too revisit your dissertation to remind yourself of what you learned.
Regrettably this is my Leicester University final blog and so the time has come to say farewell and importantly to wish you success in your studies. I do hope that you have found the blogs I have written of value to your studies. It is my intention to write further blogs on my LinkedIn profile and so feel free to connect with me there: http://uk.linkedin.com/in/sueschoormans
My time at Leicester University has been a real highlight in my life; one for which I will always have fond memories. It is been a terrific chapter in my book of life.