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Writing a dissertation

The summer is flying by! In just two months’ time my University of Manchester experience will come to an end. In many ways it already feels like it has. Since classes are over and most students have moved away due to Covid-19 or other opportunities they are now pursuing, this section of my master’s degree feels much different.

Last week I said an official goodbye to Manchester with hopes of returning for graduation in the winter to catch up with other students and give the city one last farewell. I spent a few days packing up things from my apartment and then spending a morning walking around some of my favourite places snapping pictures. I will miss this photogenic city.

So, what does the master’s experience look like during the summer? Well, all that is left is the all-consuming dissertation. This is a chance to use all of the things we have learned during the first eight months and apply them to a research topic we are interested in. Things do look a bit different because of Covid-19, but for the most part I think we are experiencing the same rewards and challenges that one faces when they work on a project of this size.

During the first semester, we started thinking of topics for our dissertation. If that’s the stage you are in, I recommend making lists of things you are interested in as soon as possible. It’s not necessary to have a decision made yet, but the sooner you have ideas, the more applied your learning will be throughout the taught semesters. I found that when I can apply a theory or analytical skill to a project I have in mind, it’s much easier to conceptualize what is being taught.

Once you reach semester two, you should have a good idea of what you want to research and write about. Up to this point I suggest meeting with as many professors as you can to run your ideas by them and get advice on which types of topics might be more realistic to research given your scope as a student. Every professor I met with was willing to give me suggestions.

At this point you will also work on your dissertation proposal and submit it early in the second semester. The proposal includes a potential title, reasons why it adds to the academic literature, methods of data accumulation for your dissertation, and a lengthy list of references to back it up. This should help you have a great outline by the time summer comes.

Once you finish your semester two classes, it’s time to start more extensive research and data collection for your proposal. Before you get into it though, it’s important to complete an ethics form to make sure that the data and methods you are using will be approved. Once you have that complete, you are on the final stretch to finishing your master’s degree.

The dissertation can be an overwhelming project, but I’ve found that as you break it up into pieces, it’s very doable. Use the post graduate handbook and the resources that your professors have given you to divvy up the work and then get going! It’s an exciting time in your education, and the limits are yours to find. Good luck!

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