Avoid dissertation disaster

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For those lucky undergraduates nearing the end of their second year, it’s time to start thinking about dissertations and what exactly you want to spend the next year of your life writing ten thousand words about. The problem is, for your average student in almost any subject, there are a wide range of topics you can choose from and it’s probably really hard to narrow it down into specifically what you want to do. So, here’s some advice on how to get started with your dissertation.

1. Talk to tutors who might have knowledge of the area you like

One of the best ways of narrowing down your interests is to talk to people who know exactly what they’re talking about. For example, if you really like early modern history, or you’re passionate about social psychology, your first port of call would be the tutor in your department that has the best knowledge of that area – perhaps a lecturer that you’ve already had for a module this year. Another way to find the right person to chat to would be to look up your department’s website, and have a browse around on the staff page to see what all your lecturers are up to project-wise; if they’re doing something particularly exciting, I’m sure they’d love to talk to you about it and help you come up with a topic that will interest you both.

2. Do some reading

I know a few of you might have cringed at the idea of doing extra reading on top of all your regular day-to-day essay/seminar reading, but as I’m sure you’re all aware, reading up on the topic you might like to do will give you the upper-hand. Plus, you don’t want to choose your topic and then over the summer realise that you absolutely hate it. Best thing to do is have a read around, maybe see how easy it will be to conduct research, or find sources for your dissertation; because although your dissertation is meant to be a challenge, you also don’t want to undertake a topic that no other academic has ever looked into and therefore there’s no evidence at all to support your dissertation. For example, ‘Do aliens eat Smarties?’ – unlikely to be any research or literature at all. You get my point.

3. Don’t leave everything till the last minute!

This is kind of a general point that if we all could be bothered to listen to would lead to a super-advanced civilisation full of crazy productive people that sci-fi fans can only dream of. But almost every third year I’ve spoken to has said to me that the best way to lessen the stress of your dissertation is to get started as soon as you can – instead of procrastinating until you can’t possibly ignore it any longer as many of students do. You might even have to give up some of your hard-earned free time this summer (I can hear you all groaning in horror), and start planning what you’re going to do. Third year is hard enough as it is from all reports I’ve heard, there’s no harm in giving yourself the advantage whilst you have the time to do it.