Hi there! My name is Alex and I'm currently undertaking my Creative Writing MA at the University of Lincoln. I'm a big fan of lots of streaming services, books, and am one of the hosts of the Fresher Take Podcast!…
Doing a university dissertation is a monumental task. For many students it is the largest, most important project that they will undertake in their university career, and with that comes a lot of pressure. However, doing a dissertation at MA level comes with its own unique challenges. Compared to a final project at BA level, an MA dissertation has a higher expected word-count, you have less contact with your supervisor, and you often have to work into the summer months with the deadline for many MA dissertations being set in autumn. This project can seem overwhelming, but this article is going to outline some advice on how to work on this project, so that you don’t find yourself under as much pressure.
From my own experience having worked on an MA dissertation this past year, the best piece of advice I can give is to start as early as you possibly can – honestly, even starting your research before any of your timetabled sessions can be a massive help, because it eases you into the study-ready mind-set. Starting early means you give yourself more time in the long-run, and so when your deadline does creep up, you won’t feel overwhelmed because you’ll have had enough time to go over all your work with the dedicated detail it needs and deserves. Stating early also gives you space to figure out practical things such as how you want to back-up your work, what kind of routine you want to set for yourself, and gives you the time to go in-depth with your preparatory research (which in my opinion, you can never have too much of!).
Communication With Tutors
Communicating with your tutors is essential. On a Master’s degree you have far fewer contact hours related to your course, and it’s likely that you’ll have sessions discussing your dissertation as little as once a month – this is because a Master’s degree, even a taught one, is a vastly more independent course of study for you as a student. Less and less will you be instructed on what to do, because you will be expected to take the initiative with research decisions, and managing your dissertation workload alongside other modules.
However, that is not to say that your tutors aren’t there for you, because they certainly are. There are no stupid questions when you are still learning, and your tutors are only ever going to be an e-mail away. So if you have any uncertainties, any doubts at all, don’t feel squeamish about reaching out. I know sometimes as a student you can feel like you’re being a bother if you have lots of questions, but it is your tutor’s job to be here for you, it’s the whole reason they’re at university! Plus, if you have a question unrelated to your dissertation then your tutors will do their utmost to help you get the answers/information/advice you need, and will help put you in the right direction to give you that peace of mind.
Communication With Course Mates
When working on a project of this magnitude, it’s easy to feel as if you’re alone in the world – working on something that’s so unique and orientated to your interests can make you feel isolated, but it’s important to remember that you are not alone. Every single other student on your Master’s course will be feeling the exact same thing, which is why it’s so important that you communicate with each other during this process. You may be working on completely different things that don’t relate to one another, but you’ll all still be experiencing the same pressure, and the same expectations. Take time to talk to each other and spend time together, whether it be to discuss the different approaches you’re all taking to your projects, or you can not discuss the work at all! It is perfectly good and healthy to take time away from this project, and taking that time with those who understand exactly what you’re going through will be a great support for you.
In my opinion, time management is one of the greatest challenges a student will ever experience. It spans every course and every year of study. No matter who you are, if you are a student then you will encounter the daunting task of trying to manage your time properly. In this situation, an MA dissertation alone is a large task, but you will have work associated with other modules on your course on top of that – this can be difficult to manage, but there are lots of ways for you to lessen that pressure.
One thing I love to do is timetable my time. On a Sunday evening I will take a look at my upcoming week, and spread out my necessary tasks day by day. This helps to ensure that my days are balanced, so that I’m not overhwelming myself. You can even split these tasks into different categories like: “Dissertation”, “Assessments”, “Chores”, “Work”, or whatever categories apply the most to you in your life. Also, when it comes particularly to assessments, one thing I always do is make a note of every deadline I have, and ALWAYS work on the assessments that are due first. This allows me to give each assessment the most amount of time possible.
However, what is also important to set aside, is time for yourself. It is way too easy to fill your time with constant work, and at the end of the day it is extremely unhealthy. Allowing yourself to spend time with friends, family, and have alone time is so important for your physical and mental health. Whether you want a night of going out to clubs, or a night in binge-watching shows about the emergency services in Chicago, it’s important to remember that this down-time is a big part of a successful work process. You do not need to feel guilty about taking this time for yourself, because it will make you more productive, help with regular sleep, and help to maintain a happier state of mind.
Also, it’s so important to remember that if you’re struggling you CAN reach out to the University of Lincoln for help and support. There are so many systems in place to support you both academically and personally, so you should never feel that you have to go through this experience alone. The University is here for you, and if you pace yourself, then you can achieve absolutely anything you set your mind to!