As evident from my last blog, the taught course is now over. This semester (the third and last,) we finish the IB+M MSc course with a Dissertation of between 15,000-20,000 words. Discussions over the Dissertation subject with an assigned supervisor begin relatively early in the course, and a proposal is due midway through 2nd Semester.
However, the intensive nature of the taught course limits the level of research and analysis possible in the first 2 semesters. As a rule of thumb, most students enter 3rd semester (late-May/June) with a clear idea of what they plan to do, and leave the actual legwork to this last stage of the course.
The subject of my blog this month will be clarifying some of the methods I have utilised to manage my time effectively in the absence of University facetime.
As part of the Dissertation Proposal students complete a GANTT chart, which is basically a horizontal bar chart which sets out dates you plan to complete the distinctive sections of the Dissertation. This compulsory part of the assignment offers the opportunity to put real thought into managing your time. Naturally, as this chart is completed midway through Semester 2, when the idea behind the dissertation has only recently been conceived, there is the possibility that it appears antiquated by Semester 3.
However, rather than ignore it completely I opted to amend it to reflect the greater insight and comprehension I had of the issue and assignment by this point. For instance, rather than complete the introduction first as originally decided, I began by expanding on my initial literature review. This was because I realised that I could build my knowledge of the subject area during completion of the lit review, and this would later improve my introduction.
Research has demonstrated that individuals are generally far more efficient/effective when allowed to focus on one set task over a reasonable period of time. For the Dissertation specifically, I have found that I spend the start of each study period familiarising myself with what I have already written in a given section, before making any additions. As such, I consider it a waste of time to try and do dissertation work simply “here and there”.
Consequently, I set aside full days for Dissertation work. At the moment that is 3 full days a week, as I have been prioritising job applications, part-time work and socialising (well-deserved after being a hermit during the Semester 2 deadline period). However, I work long hours on those days, and have planned to ramp the time investment up as the deadline approaches (in September).
Break it down and set your own deadlines
On the face of it 15,000-20,000 words is a daunting task. However, there are generally 5-10 sections which make up a dissertation (eg. Intro/Lit Review/Data Collection and Analysis/Academic Contributions/Conclusion). Therefore, it is possible (and advisable) to focus on one or two sections at one time (eg. Intro and Lit Review / Data Collection and Analysis).
Although, naturally one must keep an eye on the overarching goals of the assignment, focusing on a 2000-5000 word section at one time is far less daunting. Further, relating to the time batching section above, focusing on an individual section maximises the use of your time. I personally think it’s useful to agree on a set date to submit a rough draft of a section to a supervisor, and, as long as it is feasible with the supervisors timetable, to try and do this little and often.
Thanks for reading and I hope the advice comes in handy.