How to survive your dissertation!

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Most of us eventually have to face it once we reach our final year of study – “The Dissertation”! The final year project is more than the multiplicity of your usual essays; it requires creativity and critical thinking. Let me tell you about my journey of writing an undergraduate dissertation!

Finding a Topic

Deciding on the topic of your dissertation might be the most important step of the whole process since it sets the overall framework of your research. Some departments will provided you with a list of topics to choose from, while others such as the Sociology Department will expect you to think about your own topic.

The first aspect you should think about is picking a topic you’re genuinely interested in, since your dissertation will accompany you throughout your final year.

As a starting point I reviewed the course material we covered in the previous years and browsed journals relevant to my subject, noting down any keywords which caught my attention.

Check if your department archived samples of previous dissertations submitted, those not only allow you to see what kind of topics have been researched by former students, but also help you to get an idea about the general structure of a dissertation in your subject. For instance the Student Resource Centre stores dissertations ranging from undergraduate to doctoral level within the field of sociology and criminology.

I considered what field I am interested to work in my future career and selected my topic accordingly. Writing a 10,000 word dissertation about a topic relevant to your future job, demonstrates interest and determination which might be an advantage for your application.

Deciding on a broad area of research will make it much easier to narrow down potential topics, aim to do it by the end of your second year – however you’re usually still able to change your topic after the summer vacations, so no worries!

Start planning

Your research question might change, your motivation is likely to fluctuate, thus your supervisor should provide a constant you can always refer to. Meet up with your supervisor at the beginning of your final year and discuss your ideas with them. Even if they are not experts in your particular topic, they are still able to provide you with helpful feedback and point out how to find relevant resources.

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Keep reading and reading materials relevant to your topic! Make notes and don’t forget to keep track of your references; I started a table on Excel where I initially added the reference and some key words, and later on evolved it to a comprehensive overview of the literature, including used methodology, comparisons to other literature and evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of each source.

Most of us are guilty of procrastinating and finishing some coursework last minute – however be aware of the scope of your dissertation! Many departments require about 10,000 words and weight your dissertation as a full year module, making it impossible to complete it within only a few days but it is necessary to begin well in advance and work on it continuously. Bear in mind that if you carry out empirical research, the process might be less predictable and you should plan some extra time in case anything unexpected happens. Write an outline for your research, setting out what you need to do and set yourself personal deadlines.

Don’t think of your dissertation as one large bulk of work, but plan each chapter individually, roughly outline the key points for each chapter and how many words you approximately plan to write for each section, which will help you enormously to avoid excessive word cutting later on when you need to ensure your work stays within the set word limit.

The writing process

Find your own working style and don’t compare yourself with others, some might have finished the vast majority of their research by Christmas, while you have been working on other assignments, as long as you made a realistic schedule and stay determined you will be fine.

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Create an environment where you can thrive, some of us can only focus in a quiet corner in the library; others get inspired when sitting with their laptop in one of the cafes on campus. Whenever I felt stuck with a paragraph I would leave my work place for some time, and get a coffee from the Starbucks on campus, or take a stroll around the lake to collect my thoughts.

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Always make sure you get sufficient sleep! When being drowsy I felt that my productivity suffered, especially when trying to demonstrate creativity within my arguments. If you are more of a night owl, like me, being more efficient in the late evening, be aware of other commitments such as classes you have for the next day. Doing an all-nighter on a regular basis might disturb your biological clock, so it is best to avoid those nights until the final period if necessary.

Before submitting

Once you finished the writing process, you need to edit your work. Make sure it complies to the guidelines provided by your department, check for spelling and grammar mistakes, and whether you titled all of your tables and graphs. If possible try to finish early and submit a draft to your supervisor who can provide you with some final comments.

Also ask your friends to read your dissertation (or parts of it if there is not sufficient time), ask them to be critical and mark any sections they feel are unclear.

You can print and bind your dissertation on campus in the Copy Centre (though I would recommend to print it yourself in the library or in a lab to save a bit money), but be aware that there will be a long queue on the final day, so plan to be there at least a few hours before your deadline!

Last but not least, don’t forget to take the obligatory selfie with your dissertation 😉

Living in the University Quays

Hey there, I thought today I would tell you a bit about the university accommodation I lived in, since choosing your accommodation is one of the most important decisions you make before coming to university.

You might have heard that the Towers are supposed to be a very lively accommodation for people who don’t mind the occasional party, and maybe that the South Courts are a more quiet choice for people who value the comfort of having their own bathroom.

But what about the University Quays?

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I lived in Saint Quays while in my first and second year and can tell you, despite it being an “off campus” university accommodation, you will definitely not miss out on social life there. You can get to know your flat mates before even moving in by joining the according Facebook group which can be found on the university’s Quays accommodation website (click here).

My flat was shared by six people from various backgrounds, which I feel is a great size, as I would mostly meet someone in the kitchen to have a chat with if I wanted to, but I still had enough personal space. I experienced a great community feeling among Quays residents, which is supported by frequent activities organised by the resident assistants, like a pumpkin carving competition or cinema trips.

10679893_920079381355498_6271387702027058086_o Dinner with friends 🙂

Campus is only a 15 minutes’ walk away and crossing the (legendary) bridge each morning with your mates is definitely a bonding moment (if that isn’t for you, you can take the 61 bus which runs every 20 minutes directly to campus and to the town centre).

If you are not sure how to approach new people there, simply ask them what they think about “The Bridge” which is a perfect conversation starter 😉

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Going on a night out on campus is definitely no problem, since there is a safety bus run by the Student Union which will take you home afterwards. Also, the Quays have the great advantage of being situated right next to Dominoes and a Subway, which always proved to be a life saver for me when I just couldn’t wait ages for a takeaway to arrive!

Besides the nearby fast food outlets, the Quays are home to a few feathered friends which are either casually relaxing in the middle of the pathway, or giving a vocal performance outside your window – but they are really adorable!

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The Quays are not only cheaper than the South Courts and the Meadows, but even have bigger rooms and bathrooms! Don’t be overwhelmed by the space and the standardised furniture, you can simply personalise your room with a few hacks!

Before arriving, I printed off photos of my friends, my family and my pets, which I pasted on the walls the evening I moved in – blue tack (or better white tack) will be your friend here! Be creative: arrange them in a heart shape, as a big collage with differently sized photos, or create patterns all over your wall. Alternatively you can strain a string and attach your photos on it with clothes pegs.

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I also adopted a little room plant which is a perfect way to create a homely atmosphere in your room; at the beginning of the year there will be a fair on the squares offering flowers, cactuses and other leaf plants, so I highly recommend you to have a look there!

The bed will be the centre piece of your room so make yourself comfortable; dress your bedding with some nice bed linen, add a throw over and as many cushions as you like – welcome to your sleeping paradise!

Never underestimate the impact of good lighting! I really appreciated that, besides the ceiling light, the Quays’ rooms provide an over-desk lamp, which helps you focus on your reading. There’s also a dimmed lamp above the bed, which creates a more comfortable atmosphere in the evening.

In fact, I believe you can never have enough comfortable lighting, so I loooove fairy lights which are very affordable and pretty!

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Looking back to my time in the Quays, I remember long chats in the kitchen, the obligatory Wednesday noon fire alarm test (don’t worry, they are normal for all accommodations) and walks on the beautiful Wivenhoe trail, which lies directly behind the Quays.

Finally I can only say, come and experience it yourself – it will be worth it!

Talk to you soon! Sabrina xx

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Studying a Joint-Honours Degree

Studying a joint-honours degree: BA Sociology and Management

“So what are you studying?” – “Sociology and Management.” – “I’m sorry?” – “Sociology and Management, so it’s half business and half sociology…” – “Ah okay… and how does they link with each other?”…I’m studying a joint honours degree and have this conversation at least a dozen times a term!

Although joint honours are gaining increased popularity, many people still seem to think you have to dedicate yourself to only one subject. So did I.

Unaware of joint honours degrees, I went for Sociology when the application deadline was approaching, which seemed like a fair compromise of my interests. It wasn’t until I came to Essex that I learned about the existence of a joint honours degree and immediately felt attracted by that option. I always played with idea of studying business, but had been afraid by the proportion of maths it is said to contain, but the course Sociology and Management seemed to be less ‘mathsy’, so I applied for a course change which was been approved within a week. Now I’m in my third year and really happy with that decision!

Combine two subjects!

If you feel like I did – undecided if this one subject on its own is the right choice or you’re simply passionate about two subjects: a joint honour might be the perfect option for you! No need to be torn between two subjects anymore 🙂

Complementary

Oh, this feeling during a class discussion when you think “oh yeah, I already know this!” is just invaluable! Several times I have been able to apply my knowledge from the one subject to the other. For exmaple, when talking about organisational behaviour, Weber’s theory about bureaucracy came in handy, and in a social theory essay about cultural capital, I could refer to knowledge I gained from my marketing module. These interdisciplinary links might provide you with some additional marks in your assignments and overall help you to get a better understanding about the different aspects of one topic.

Greater Variety of Skills

Since different disciplines have different approaches of studying, you will be able to gain a diverse set of skills. The Sociology department puts a great emphasis on research, which taught me how to design surveys for social research, how to analyse quantitative data statistically and about the benefits and pitfalls of conducting an interview. The Essex Business School on the other hand, equipped me with the ability to apply my knowledge to a practical context by analysing case studies, or developing a revised marketing strategy for an existing corporation. Some of you might be worried about whether a joint-honour degree will provide you with sufficient depth in both subjects, my answer is that this is dependent on your specific subject combination and your career aims. Neither sociology, nor management are tailored towards a specific career, so they simply open up more options for you 🙂

Getting to know two departments

This point obviously depends on your particular subject combination, as some joint degrees embrace subjects within the same department. I belong to both the Essex Business School and the Sociology department, which means that I got to know more people. However, sometimes you might feel a bit fragmented, since you spend less time with the people from one department compared to single-honour students. Also the concept of Business school seminar differs from the Sociology’s class concept; the former embrace larger number of students, whereas latter are more intimate and involve more student discussion.

Challenging

“You all are probably already familiar with portfolio management from your other modules, so I don’t need to elaborate the basic concept anymore when speaking about brand portfolio…” – “Erm no actually, I’m not…”. Yeah, sometimes your lecturers just assume that everybody sitting in the module is doing the same course; doing a joint honour degree does mean that you can get less explanations to some concepts compared to single-honour students. Clustered deadlines can be another tricky aspect to deal with, since departments don’t always consult each other about their deadlines to consider joint-honours students. On the other hand, this definitely trains your time-management skills, which is always good to add to your cv 😉

 

Joint-honours can be great, but it depends on your personality, your course expectations and your career aims. You have to be flexible and be prepared that there are many core modules for your degree, so you might get to choose less optional modules. Yet studying a joint-honour degree allows you to demonstrate your determinism and individualism; they provide you with the opportunity to get an insight into two subjects and equip you with a wide range of skills.