I’ve just finished my master’s dissertation. Now that I am no longer burdened by the workload of the dissertation, I can finally look back on what I have done.
I started working on the dissertation in May as soon as I had a meeting with my supervisor. He asked me to submit a draft of the most important chapter of the dissertation within a month. I decided that the most important chapter was the analysis chapter and I got to work. As you can imagine, starting with the analysis chapter is out of order and it is nearly impossible to form a proper line of argument when you have not seriously explored the theoretical basis for the study. Luckily, I managed to put something together but unfortunately, my supervisor took a very long time to get back to me give the feedback. However, I was busy with other things so I did not mind that he did not reply to my emails and I just kept on working based on the dissertation outline that my supervisor has approved. Then I spent the next two months doing research and writing the dissertation. I spent the last month just editing the dissertation. To be honest, I actually enjoyed writing the dissertation but I really did not like editing it. However, for me, editing is the most important part of writing the dissertation because I cannot form ideas and arguments coherently in my head. It was better for me to just write and get my ideas down, and formulate the argument as I see the bigger picture. It was better for me to just write my ideas down first and rearrange them later.
Frankly, I just did not have much problem with my dissertation. It may seem arrogant to say this but I was confident that I know how to write a dissertation based on my experiences of writing essays. Hence, I did not know what to ask. Moreover, even if I had questions about my topic I knew that I could find out the answer through doing more research. The issues I had were not inherent to the topic I was studying, I had difficulties trying to understand the theories and forming a complex argument. Although the supervisor’s input on these issues would be benefit, the issues are ones that do not necessarily demand the assistance of the supervisor, I just had to think harder. When it comes to writing essays, I can be very stubborn. As much as I appreciate constructive criticism and suggestions, I just wanted to do it in my own way. This was also the case for the dissertation but I was confident that I did the right thing. On the other hand, I am prepared to face the consequences for the risks that I took.
When I was working on the dissertation, I was stressed but not because my topic was difficult to understand but it was because I thought that I was stupid for not knowing the answer and taking such a long time to understand the concepts and theories. I was more frustrated about myself and the way I work rather than about the content of the dissertation. Moreover, I constantly doubt whether my work would be good enough. To be honest, although it was challenging, writing a dissertation is not the most difficult thing and because of that, I put a lot of pressure on myself to do well.
Tips for dissertation:
- Start researching as soon as possible: academic research is endless. There is so much to read because there are academic articles on everything under the sun. As you become more informed about the topic, you will have better ideas for your research which would lead you to do even more research. So, it is best that you start reading early.
- Find an effective way for you to keep track of the resources that you: as you do your research you will look at a lot of articles, books, and primary sources, and you will have to cite them as precisely and correctly as possible. You need to keep track of the resources down to the page number. For me, I usually take notes as I read and take down the page number when I reach the end of the page. I use a program called Endnote which lets me collect the resource information, generate the reference for the bibliography, and attach PDF files. Moreover, you can also link the program with Microsoft Word and cite as you write.
- Use a mind map to brainstorm your ideas: when you study a topic it is easy to get lost in your own thoughts and ideas, making a mind map is a great method to sort out your thoughts and to make connections between different points and ideas.
- Always ask why and how: in academic writing, it is necessary to justify or prove your point with credible evidence. To make sure that your argument is logical you just need to keep asking why and how. Why is this information important? Why is this the best explanation? How is this paragraph adding to the overall argument?
- Choose the topic that you are most passionate about: you will have to research the topic for a very long time, therefore, you would need a topic that you would be researching without getting bored and become uninterested.
- Don’t compare your dissertation with others: it is helpful to have a look at examples or look at your classmates’ dissertations to make sure that you are on the right track, however, you have to keep in mind that people write differently depending on the topic of their research. Just because yours look different from theirs, it does not necessarily mean that it is any less good, it’s just different.
- Allow plenty of time to edit your work: after you finish writing or have reached the word limit, take a couple of days off from working on the dissertation to take your mind off the topic as you would be able to re-read the essay with a fresh mind. It is important to clear your mind before editing because it would help you to see your topic from a different perspective and not be bogged down on your thoughts. Editing can save you a lot of marks as you thoroughly correct the grammar, syntax, and word choice.
When I finished my dissertation, I thought it would feel happy and free but that was not the case. I’ve never felt so empty in my life. I spent four months researching and writing that 20,000-word dissertation. It was like a relationship, I put so much effort into trying to make it work and took great care of it. I have dedicated all my time to it but in the end, it took my heart and left me feeling empty, lonely, confused, and lost. All I have left is the memory of our time together.
It feels like I have lost my purpose in life. I do not know what to do anymore. As I packed up my things, I realized that my academic life has finally come to an end and there was no need for me to keep my notebooks for future references anymore. It is so weird to think that my formal education is coming to an end. It seemed like it would never end but it just did. My education has always been the focus of my life and now that it is over, I have to rediscover my purpose.
For all those who are working on your dissertation or planning to do a master’s degree, good luck!