The dreaded task… a dissertation. Some of you may have to do one, whilst others may have the option to do one. So if you fall in to either category and what a first-hand perspective then listen up.
Dissertations are a huge responsibly for one person, there is no doubt about it. Typically you’ll have the option of choosing a research topic from a list prepared by the researcher within your faculty. If you go down this route, read the descriptions of the research proposals at least twice. Circle more than two that tickle your fancy, and then go see the associated researcher. This could be one of your lecturers, or someone who only does behind the scene research. In either case, go see them as they will be your supervisor and your key to understanding the research problem before dedicating yourself to it for an entire year.
If you’re feeling a little adventurous, you could have the option of doing your own research project. This is what I choose to do. The key to this is choosing something you believe is research worthy, something you’d like to find out, or add knowledge to. The project should naturally align to your interests as well as your degree program. Discovering something you feel passionate about and want to explore can be the easy part, the hard part comes when trying to find a supervisor who can see your vision. You will need to meet regularly with them to discuss the whole idea, but don’t worry. I’ll tell you in a second the things to prepare.
What you need to know from the outset is the fact that your supervisor will be the key to your dissertation success. Their experiences will guide you in ways you wouldn’t be able to do from reading a book or this blog!
Tip 1 : Choose an interesting topic – whether it’s one from the list, or your own. Do one that really gets you going. You will have a year to do it and you don’t want to become bored mid-way and burn out.
Tip 2: Meet you supervisor every week: this was daunting for me, as I wasn’t really sure what way to go about beginning the project, but it is the early meetings with your supervisor that will give you that eureka moment
Tip 3: Start early: You can read all of the “started and finished my dissertation in 2 weeks and still got a 2.1” stories online that you like, but I’m telling you, unless you are willing to be awake an typing for two solid weeks, I wouldn’t recommend starting the month before its due. The amount of background reading required took me months alone, so start early and take it bit by bit.
Tip 4: Understand methodology: Methodology simply put is how you are going to go about doing the research, will you use surveys, interviews, observations, that kind of thing. Sounds easy, but each method provides different insights and meanings to people. So be clear and understand how the results from a survey, or an interview will answer the research problem.
Tip 5: It takes time to gather data: Following on from Tip 4, the method you choose will be time consuming for a number of reasons, A) because you will need to design them using appropriate measures, B) You need to pilot them to ensure you get the right data and C) because this stage involves other people, who may have their own dissertation or busy live to lead. So again, start early on this
Tip 6: Have a cuppa: Once you have your data, relax, take a breather and then come back to your data and get familiar with it. Whether quantitative or qualitative, spend a week or two looking over the data, playing around with statistic tools, or making notes about interviews. Understanding the data inside out will make for well-informed results.
Tip 7: Discuss your Discussion: Probably the most important part is your discussion. This explains how you interpret the results, what the results really tell us, what knowledge they generate about the research problem and the impact or relevance this should have. In order to get a well-rounded discussion I recommend borrowing the mind of your friends or family. If you explain to them in plain English your findings and then ask if they agree or disagree. They might present you with something you may not have thought of which could explain why the results are such a way.
Tip 8: It never perfect: It’s likely you will be doing a dissertation on your own, so it’s important to understand the limitations your study will have just because of that. You could be amazing academically, but in the world of research single researcher projects will always be viewed with caution.
The main thing to remember is that you are demonstrating your skills throughout the project. There won’t be a right or wrong answer.