It's been 3 years since I graduated from Plymouth University with my 2:1 in International Relations and I am starting to feel very old...
The freshers heading off to uni this year were born in 1998. Just to scare some of us who are well in to our 20's! I'll let that sink in for a moment...
I came across my dissertation this evening, and I had visions of my first week of lectures in 3rd year when we were told to start preparing our dissertation proposal. This left us all somewhat overwhelmed to say the least.
Thankfully, I already knew mine would have a nautical theme, and I had a pretty good idea what I wanted to write about. Pirates. Ships. The usual...
I do also remember a lot of stressing despite knowing about my topic, and so I thought I would share a few top tips for those of you heading in to 3rd year with a dissertation to write!
1. Write about something that interests you
NB: I chose maritime security/piracy as my dissertation topic because it was related to the career I wanted, and I can advise tailoring your dissertation if you have a specific career goal. Every interviewer for jobs that I applied for wanted to have a read of my dissertation, so if it's well written it's another tick on the CV checklist!
2. Make the most of having a dissertation tutor
Unfortunately we had also heard of him within lectures, and he had a reputation for being petrifying (he's not) but needless to say, I went to my first dissertation meeting very apprehensive...
Despite the above, I was excited and armed with a proposal entitled 'An analysis of maritime piracy' - He shot me down instantly, telling me it was 'booooring' and that everyone wrote about it. I was devastated as I didn't know what else to write, but he then gave me some of the best possible guidance. He told me to look at it from a different perspective and suggested policy implementation as a way forward. I looked in to this and actually found it interesting. I did International Relations, I'm one of those people.
After just one meeting I had changed my title to 'An analysis of counter piracy policy implementation in the Gulf of Aden' and that stuck throughout the year.
The point to take away from this is not to feel downhearted if your dissertation tutor criticises your work, it's usually constructive! Every chapter I took to him he gave me pointers on and from every meeting I took something away to help me write!
I know so many people who didn't go to any of their dissertation meetings and this was, unfortunately, reflected in their final marks.
Your dissertation tutor is there to advise you, help with any questions you may have and give you guidance.
3. Plan, plan, plan!
Plan chapters, plan appendices, plan any pictures/charts you want to include.
... and don't stress if whilst planning you decide that you need to rewrite an entire chapter.
It happens (twice in my case), it's not a huge problem, just make sure you meet your deadlines and hand in date :)
4. Twitter stalk./network
Don't be afraid to hassle people who perhaps are related to your dissertation topic, working in the field etc... they can only say no!
As it turned out by entering a competition on Twitter I ended up interviewing William Hague and asking him about piracy off the coast of Somalia. I also managed to get an interview with the then British Ambassador to Somalia and some naval officers as well. All extra quotes/references you wouldn't get from any textbooks or journals.
Social media is just that... social. So use it to your advantage if you can!
5. Don't compare your dissertation with friends. Ever.
DO NOT COMPARE.
Everyone works at a different pace. What matters is that you keep any deadlines you've set yourself and, ultimately, that you get it handed in on time. I stressed at one point because a friend was proofreading and handed her finished, bound dissertation in 2 weeks before the deadline (I handed mine in the day before but knew people working on it the morning of the hand in as well).
You will only end up more stressed.
Focus on you, your dissertation and getting it completed.
6. The word count will eat up all of your research...
It's one of those things. Thankfully my appendices did not come in to the word count, so I made a point of including the larger, more relevant texts in there and referencing that way, lowering my word count to within the boundaries!
It still ended up being 91 pages long, though...
7. Sugar will be your best friend
Sugar is a food group.
8. Proofread. A lot.
Not one of us picked up on the fact I had left the Anglia Ruskin sample for 'how to Harvard reference a YouTube video' above my actual YouTube reference. Meaning that when my dissertation was bound by Staples and handed in, I had a reference for Top Gear: Unveiling The Stig in there.
Thankfully I got my dissertation back after results were posted, and the markers didn't pick up on it!
9. Be proud.
Enjoy the process, enjoy knowing you've worked hard on such a large project and then go and enjoy a well earned G&T/Champagne/Insert drink of choice.