Yes this is sadly the last and final instalment of my dissertation diaries series where I have taken you on the journey of sorting out my dissertation topic, reading many books and sources, writing my literature review and drafting chapters.
Looking back on the past year it is clear that this was a long and turbulent experience and it was definitely not easy going. Although, I hope that in writing about it you have felt less alone on this experience or you have learnt something from it. I wish I got more clarity from a first hand source when starting out with my dissertation.
In retrospect I was a different person then to who I am now; I remember being extremely overwhelmed and nervous about the enormous task I felt I had in front of me. It didn’t help that I was getting different stories from different people whether that was online, from my lecturers or from fellow students. If I could tell anything to my self back then it would be to take one day at a time and to work to how you feel is best. Everyone does everything differently and just because somebody is telling you to do something a certain way, doesn’t mean it’ll be the right way for you.
I officially finished my dissertation on the 8th of April after months of furious typing and intense working hours while balancing course work and the many other jobs I have taken on.
In my last instalment of my dissertation diaries I had 22 days until the final piece was due and I had just handed in my first chapter and received my last bit of feedback. That feels like very far away from where I am currently, in fact university life in general has passed me by at an insane rate.
The dissertation process is one I am permanently divided over and to be honest it is hard to reflect on something that went by very quickly. On one hand, it was 100 times better than I thought, especially in the last few months. But on the other hand, that is not to say it was not stressful and a lot of hard work. It did reveal to me that self belief and preparation early on is key to a work-life balance. At the end of the day, you are doing this by yourself which is both a privilege and a curse.
The vast amount of research I had done in the lead up to Christmas helped me substantially in understanding the topic and in shaping my argument. With the help of my supervisor I managed to figure out what needed developed and what areas I had left uncovered. Surprisingly, not all that research was used in my final dissertation but largely the rest could be found in my literature review. So, in that sense do not be stressed about covering all the basis in your final piece, from doing a topic that is very open ended and expansive I have come to terms with the fact that it is just not possible. Plus, secondary sources in any essay are always used to back up your argument, it is never about showcasing how much research you can do.
I did touch on this in my last post but this image of the dissertation workload really did not show itself in its most popularised form with my experience. I didn’t do all nighters (I never have), I didn’t leave all the work to the last second and I didn’t consume 15 cups of coffee the day before the deadline. In that sense, I guess I sort of felt like I had imposter syndrome because I built the process up so much in my head that I was waiting for an imminent crash or a feeling of extreme trepidation and stress. Unlike some science degrees or other courses my dissertation was spread across my whole fourth year but that is not always the case. I know other courses choose to give students the latter term to do their dissertation but they do not have any other modules to complete simultaneously. Maybe that is different and the experience may not match up to mine if that is the case. I guess it comes down to that repeated phrase, ‘making things easy is hard’. You have to put a lot of hard work into managing tasks easily but at the end of the day if you don’t put in the work, you are the one making things difficult. It is completely up to the individual so having a proactive mindset is the only thing that can get you through such a large piece of work without the aforementioned stereotypes.
I would say that the one thing you can do to prepare for the huge workload is prepare. It is the one thing that I was forever grateful for; I did the majority of my research before Christmas and I had an in depth plan for my first chapter before the first term finished so I then had a first draft of my first chapter complete by late January (just when we were heading back to uni).
This preparation kept me in check and made sure I had the ability to fulfil my other commitments while writing. I had modules to complete, tutoring to do, my business to run and a netball club to organise. I must admit that I found the first term extremely difficult, probably a lot harder than the second term. Trying to wade through information when you have little idea of what is going on is difficult and very overwhelming. We got endless recommendations on how to organise your time and how to prepare for the future, which I can honestly say was pretty useless. If anything, it made me feel worse. Nobody will tell you what to do or how to do it; you have to go with your gut and in that sense, the early stages are important for making mistakes, you’ll have your supervisor to speak to and you can ‘hash’ out any lose ends at the beginning rather than getting stuck in the mud.
I think I now know what they mean when they say the dissertation process is a learning curve and that it showcases how you can take elements into your future workplace. I know how to manage my time better (because I listened to myself and how I work rather than the workshops I was assigned), I know when to prioritise and when to recognise when to ask questions, I also learned that sticking to your guns and not comparing yourself to others is key to being true to yourself and not getting bogged down by other peoples progress.
That key saying ‘trust the process’ has never been more valid for a dissertation. Your project is bound to be different to every other student and thus, only you know what it needs and how to get it done best. You have done uni for nearly four years so believe in yourself!
I handed my dissertation in on the 8th of April after quite a stressed period where my tutor only got back to me on quite an important manner the day of the deadline. But that’s in the past and if I am honest I do not wish to revisit it. That being said, do I feel any different now the piece is handed in? Well no. It is not a paper copy submission anymore, it gets handed in online like any other assessment and to be honest once that was finished I had two other assessments to start. As I have said to quite a few people, the whole thing was very anti climactic. The only thing I am hoping for is that I have done the topic justice. Talking about race in the publishing world, especially in the context of being a white woman, is a complex issue but I hope in the process of my research and final dissertation I have shown that progress has been made but that there is still a long way to go. My main finding was that choice plays a huge part in the Black authors existence; they should have the choice over whether they write on their ancestral trauma, whether they address current day racial issues or whether they write on none at all. Reducing the Black author to purely their race is doing nothing but pigeonholing them into an expectation which is unnecessary and unproductive and sadly that is a reality we currently live in.
I am glad I got to research and write on a subject I am extremely passionate about and that is very topical. I keep my fingers crossed that it is received well but regardless of the outcome, I am happy to have finished it and to have grown as a human being because of it.
Although, I refuse to look at it for the next 5 years incase I spot any typos.
It is now in the hands of my supervisor and the independent marker and in that sense, I think I can finally let go of the whole process.
If you have just completed your dissertation how did you find it? If you did it years ago do you have any regrets or are you at peace with it? Or if you are yet to reach this stage, do you have any more questions? Fire your questions or opinions down below, I’d love to respond to them!
You can find all the other instalments of my dissertation diaries here.