I guess it’s time to start thinking (at least) about the mammoth third year assignment, otherwise known as the dissertation. So what is a dissertation? After having an initial introductory lecture some weeks ago I can tell you that the sociology research project dissertation is an 8’500 word beast, complete with an abstract; literature review; a discussion of methodology, research design and ethics; a presentation of research findings; an in depth reflection upon problems, limitations and achievements of the research; and finally, a discussion of conclusions. My palms have begun to sweat and my head has started aching just thinking about writing this blog simply about dissertations; I wonder what kind of state I’ll be in ten months from now when the due date is looming?
Hopefully this little preamble to the dissertation project won’t put any readers off the idea of pursuing a path towards higher education. I must admit that when I first started hearing about the importance of dissertations back in college I always thought that I’d never be here, so would never have to worry about writing one. Now I find myself in far too deep to ignore the fact that I effectively have a beast to tame in the shape of a research project. Fortunately for me, I’ve had the pleasure of attending Leicester University for the last two years which has, without a doubt, served to prepare me for such a task. So much so in fact, that I can honestly say that I feel confident even excited, about putting together my first solid piece of research.
After spending two years here at Leicester University I’ve gotten to know a fair few third year sociology students who have passed on to me some valuable inside information regarding dissertation preparation. One particular snippet of advice that I would consider to be particularly vital is the importance of getting started early. The dissertation module is split into two modules over the course of the whole third academic year, meaning that taken as a whole, the dissertation project equates to one third of the third years mark; again the brain swells and the palms get damp. After being told by one very helpful third year student that he wished he’d started his literature review during the summer I asked “why’s that then”? The answer came back quick and clear, it all made perfect sense. The more effort that you put into the dissertation during the summer break, the less stress you will be under during term time, thus, the more time you will be able to spend on the other two modules that you will be being assessed on in the usual ways. Sounds like common sense I know, but common sense often eludes even the brightest of people.
Another little snippet of insider information which I picked up upon from several, rather tierd looking third year students was that having much more than just a very general interest in the area you wish to research is essential. This is another rather common sense point, nevertheless, a point worth communicating I think. When considering an area to research, or when developing research questions, the more intriguing and interesting you find certain areas and specific questions the better. This is mainly due to the fact that yes, you’re going to be working on this particular area of the social world for the best part of a year. This will involve overwhelming amounts of reading and research; the more interested you are in the particular field in which you choose to apply your effort, the better I guess.
Another important slice of advice to which I was frequently exposed: “GET TO KNOW YOUR RESEARCH SUPORVISOR”. All undergraduate sociology students are allocated a research project supervisor. Make the most of this person for they know what they are doing; yet another piece of common sense advice? I was amazed at how many third years, from various departments, to whom I spoke to over the last three months who told me that they regretted not making much of an effort to go and seek advice from their supervisor.
I hope that this brief blog has helped to give people an idea of what to expect dissertation wise. With a little luck I will make it out at the other end and be able to expand more precisely upon the whole experience in a later blog post.
Good luck and thanks to Dan Odutola for the advice.