If you didn’t know already I am an English Lit. student in Edinburgh and in September I will be going into my fourth (and final) year. And with that final year comes the dreaded task of writing my dissertation.
If I have heard anything over the past few years it is that a dissertation can take the life out of you; it is all consuming, tiring and involves a lot of independent study. So, before I even reached the stage of thinking about my dissertation I already knew that it was going to be difficult. I’ve decided to make the task even more difficult by allowing all of you to join me on that journey (kidding… sort of). I really wish I could have watched or read something like this last year when I was already stressing about what books to do, or at the start of the year when I was panicking about the impending task. I’d love to be more transparent about what’s involved and also how I feel about it, because as you’ve probably noticed all I feel right now is fear and trepidation.
The only advice I’ve been given is from my lecturers (no disrespect to them), which has done little to qualm my nerves considering they are the ones who get the luxury of looking at us doing it rather than having to endure the stress themselves.
In my 1st dissertation diary I thought I’d update you with where I am at. When doing a dissertation (especially for an English lit course) they really want you to have an idea of what you want it to concern (a topic), a year and some books (1 very large one, 2 equally sized books or 3 of varying length – of course this varies if you decide to do poetry etc.) by October. For me I knew the first two going into Summer but books scared the living daylights out of me, which you’ll find out more about soon. So, I’ve decided to look at postcolonial literature in a contemporary setting, however I have no idea if I want to concentrate on Black British writers or African American writers (which is the writers I have concentrated on when buying books). I’ve been inspired by a module that I did in second year where we looked at Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and compared it with Achebe’s Things Fall Apart as part of the course work. I am interested in how Black people are portrayed in novels, particularly in the 21st century and how this has advanced from the white gaze. Moreover I also want to look at how Black authors telling this story is integral to diversifying the writing scene and helping to add authenticity to their story.
Now by no means is that a question or point of reference, I still don’t know what I want to delve into exactly but from experience I know this will come when I choose a text. I think ever since thinking about the dissertation I was petrified about choosing texts. I mean there are so many out there, how do you decide? I also think there has always been a thought in the back of my head that I have to choose something highbrow or notable when in fact that isn’t exactly the truth. Yet the line between acceptable and not acceptable seems to be blurred because I don’t actually know what will be deemed ‘a no go’. So when jumping into reading I am constantly questioning if what I am doing is correct. But to be honest, I’ve been doing that for my whole degree so why stop now.
We’re currently at the beginning of July, I have about 6 books lined up and I’m just about finished my first novel, Percival Everett’s Erasure. I am not going to delve into it or say how I am getting on, purely because I haven’t finished it and I don’t want to bore you. The plan is to get all of this done before September however I also need to make a start on the texts for the rest of my modules so in essence I need to get a move on. Keep your fingers crossed for me.
Now before I round everything up I thought I would clue you up on how my dissertation writing is going to go, especially with the ongoing pandemic. I jumped on a Q&A call with my dissertation module leader who enlightened us all on what’s looking like another pretty bleak year. Basically the dissertation is run as two modules throughout term 1 and 2, thus equating to a large part of your final grade.
There are elements like a lit review which gets completed in the first term and accounts for around 10% of the grade but the majority is weighted on the end of year piece. So as you can imagine the fear that comes with doing the right thing is largely because it matters a lot. To further this I have found out that all my lectures/workshops surrounding the dissertation as well as the supervision meetings will most likely be online (at least the lectures have been confirmed as prerecorded presentations or Webex calls with it being the choice of the supervisor and student whether to meet in person). I’m not going to lie the whole online thing fills me with dread. For what is my most important piece of work and my most independent piece, it would be nice to be in a room with some people who are doing the exact same thing and feel the exact same way.
I thought at least by October we would be in a better way with covid where my uni experience would be controlled less by this disease. Just to add to that, yes my supervisor application and final project outline is due in October so you do get some time at the beginning to solidify your thoughts. However, lectures and meetings aren’t scheduled weekly like any other module, it is every few weeks which means the process becomes even more isolating.
I don’t want to fear what I haven’t even started and I know by this post I am on a thin line to doing that. It’s just with what I have heard thus fur there isn’t any room for excitement. But this is what these ‘diary’ entries are for, to be completely honest about the process, to keep myself accountable and to shed a light on how it is going. I’ve mentioned it in an upcoming video in terms of how I am going to go about the reading process so keep your eyes peeled for that.
I’ll be back every month/second month to keep you in the loop.
If you’re starting your dissertation in September or you’ve already done one how did/do you feel? Do you have any advice? Let me know below.