Dissertation Diaries 3

The last time I uploaded a blog post was on the 29th of October and to say I feel slightly out of touch which what I am doing is an understatement. I apologise that it has taken me this long to get back to writing, to be honest October seems like a lifetime away from where I am right now. Mid term and final assessments have passed and I have just finished my last assessment for my first term of fourth year.

What a ride!

With all those assessments handed in it means I have submitted my literature review, which I discussed in my second dissertation diary entry, and I am now at the stage where the next hurdle is writing my first chapter.

With that comes a massive update on my progress. I probably should have done one of these sooner because since my last post I have honed in on my topic, finalised my books, handed in my proposal, got assigned a supervisor and handed in my lit review. Yes Sophie, why have you not updated anyone sooner!?

So lets start with the books. I have in fact chosen to write on Half of a Yellow Sun, Blonde Roots and Erasure. All novels by black writers and all of which achieve something different. With choosing the books also comes a clearer idea of what to write on; I have chosen to look at Metafiction and how contemporary novels deal with assumptions and stereotypes put on black people and how this can affect the author whereby they are pigeonholed into a specific genre. Half of a Yellow Sun and Blonde Roots all deal with postcolonial narratives but comment on contemporary formations of identity and stereotypes in doing so. In that sense I will be looking at the degree to which they are useful to rewriting and redefining black culture and identity or if they just resubscribe to this idea that a black author must write on postcolonial issues. Whereas Erasure will be brought in to look at contemporary writing and the literary market as he satirises being a writer in American society. This only touches the surface when it comes to my topic but I hope it will highlight how important and complex the research is (it wouldn’t be my dissertation if it didn’t cover several topics).

So at the start of October I got assigned my supervisor. For those who don’t know, a supervisor is someone who will guide you with your dissertation with one to one meetings to make sure you are on the right path. Specifically, they will help you with narrowing your topic, assist with research (in the sense that they can recommend good sources), give you tasks to complete to help you move forward with your topic and just be on hand to answer any questions. Your supervisor will also mark your literature review (and give you detailed feedback to help write your dissertation), will mark one chapter of your dissertation before submission and will mark your overall dissertation (alongside an independent marker (I think)). Basically, they are there with you the whole way through the process. But this will only happen if you take innitiative, you need to ask for help and you need to set up the meetings. It is very unlikely that they will come to you.

I’ve been very lucky with my supervisor, he specialises in contemporary writing and has already read two of my novels. Whereas I know some other people who are struggling with theirs. I’ve had two meetings, which are very short (15-20mins max), and from what I have gathered they are used more for me to update him on what I have been doing so he can make any suggestions and can give me advice on how to move forward. Quite often I will be given small tasks to do so when the next meeting comes around he can instruct me on the best next steps. He’s actually given me source material and a book to read which will be useful for context around black contemporary writing. So although they can be daunting, if they are used right, a supervisor can keep you accountable and reassure you that what you are doing is okay!

The reason I took over a month off is because my mid term assessments, lit review submission and my final assessments were all one after the other. I more often than not felt like I couldn’t come up for air, I was that stuck in work. I must admit I neglected several aspects of my life – my family, friends, mental health and my livelihood – for my work. Which I do not recommend. But we are officially out the other side now and I am extremely grateful that it is done.

The lit review was a very intense period of time. I had done a very basic amount of research when completing my proposal (which I would recommend anyone doing) so at least when I started it I had something to go off of. That being said, I did A LOT of research. Never-mind writing 3,500 words plus, I’d say the research took the longest to complete. For a lit review you must cover the basics of the foundations of your dissertation, so including the research already done on the novels, I had to show that I had a good understanding of metafiction, contemporary literature, race in contemporary literature, trauma fiction and British and American representations of race (to name a few). Needless to say it is a daunting task to complete, and I did put it off because I was scared of starting it. No matter how much someone tries to explain to you how to do a literature review, I firmly believe every one is different depending on what your topic is.

If you are going to be doing a lit review in the near future then I highly recommend when doing your research that you are continually picking out from your sources what would be beneficial to your dissertation in terms of what adds nuance and depth to your argument. It is also about considering if you agree or disagree with the writers argument and if they have left anything out which you wish to explore or take further. Unlike a normal essay, it is not just about getting quotes to back up your points.

Now all I have to do is wait for the grade and feedback from my lit review so I can write my first chapter. This and reading Paul Beatty’s The Sellout, is what I will be doing over Christmas, because unfortunately this will be the only way that I can mentally handle the challenge of my final term of fourth year.

If you are also doing a dissertation, how is it going? Do you have any tips if you have already done one? Let me know in the comments!

Regular blog posts should be back to normal now so thanks for bearing with me!

Much love,

Sophie x

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