My 2nd year at uni is over, and when I return to lectures in September, I’ll begin preparing to actually write my dissertation. Oddly enough, it seems way less daunting now that I know what my plan is for September. I mean, it’s essentially the same length as 4 essays over a year. It could be worse?
After deciding I was going to do my dissertation in Politics rather than History, I was a bit lost on what to do throughout most of this year until the end. There’s a few things I would’ve appreciated knowing regarding dissertation preparation, so I thought I’d break it down for anyone thinking of doing a dissertation in Politics:
- An idea will not just come to you – If you think you’ll suddenly have a eureka moment, forget it. To even be sure of what topic you want to do can be difficult. Sometimes the best thing to do is just have a really good think about what interests you the most. For me, this meant thinking back to previous lectures, which ones really caught my attention, rather than sending me to sleep. One area of study that really stuck out for me was the Yugoslav wars. I barely knew anything about it, apart from 1 lecture I had in my first year IR module.
- Neither will the department just come to you – At the end of the day, the Politics department has hundreds of students to manage, ranging from 1st years to PhD students. If you think someone will chase you personally about your dissertation, you’ll never get it done. While I’d hoped to have some general help from the department, even that was haphazard at best. If you want to get anything done without panicking, speak to someone sooner rather than later. Since I didn’t really know who to turn to, I contacted my personal tutor around March (the first time I ever did) just to talk through my ideas and what I could do to help myself. He suggested I take out a book that gives an overview of the Yugoslav wars and pick out any particular areas that interested me. From this, I decided to look into the Breakup of Yugoslavia, which subsequently caused the Yugoslav wars.
- Your literature review is key – This really helps you decide whether you’re happy with your dissertation choice. In the module PL2000 (Political Analysis), you have to write a literature review about any topic you choose. It is SUGGESTED that you use this as a guide for your dissertation module and I would wholeheartedly agree. I decided to do my lit review on the International Responses to the Breakup of Yugoslavia, owing to the fact that half of my degree is International Relations. The review confirmed that this was definitely an area I wanted to pursue. On the other hand, if you decide you don’t like the area of study, at least you know now rather than halfway through 3rd year!
- Time is of the essence – This is probably the most important point to make: DO NOT LEAVE YOUR PROPOSAL TO THE LAST MINUTE. By the end of your 2nd year, you have to submit a dissertation proposal to the department, along with a signature of approval from a lecturer. Early June may seem far away when it’s only April, but circumstances change. I excused myself at the start of May because of exams. But I then spent 4 WEEKS trying to get hold of a lecturer to sign my proposal off. The problem? A lot of lecturers go on study leave once lectures are over. There were only 3 people in the department who remotely knew about Yugoslavia: 2 were away and the other never answered my emails in time. I eventually managed to get hold of a lecturer just to sign it off, with a few days to go before the deadline. Can quite honestly say it was one of the most stressful times of the year for me.
- It’s never too early to go deeper into your dissertation plans – One lecturer was helpful enough to send me a list of questions over email to help identify what is was about my topic that interested me, as you still need a research question come September. While I didn’t come up with a question, I did manage to narrow down my topic to relations between the former Yugoslav republics and the European Union, as this was fundamentally shaped by the Yugoslav wars. Come September, I’ll be ready to begin actively researching this area, rather than still debating whether the choice was right for me or not.
I would highly recommend spending a good amount of time to thinking about your dissertation in 2nd year, as you’re definitely saving yourself the hassle of panicking in third year. Example: Writing ‘Brexit’ or ‘British Politics’ on your proposal form is so vague, you’ll only make things more difficult for yourself next year. Meanwhile, I can only hope for smooth sailing (If that’s possible while writing a dissertation!).