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Rather dumb Dissertation question

(56 Posts)
Southdevondelight Wed 02-Oct-13 23:51:48

DD (only child) has just started Yr 4 after 12 months work placement. Neither I nor late DH or actually anyone in our families has ever gone to university, so I've no real knowledge and feel a bit stupid asking about dissertations. What exactly are they? Do you just choose something related to your studied topic? DD's timetable shows dissertation work against several modules so does that mean separate ones for each subject? She's not really enjoyed uni to the full, although thrived at placement and is now already stressing at the academic workload ahead so I'd like to understand as much as I can about these dissertations.

LRDtheFeministDragon Thu 03-Oct-13 10:32:21

I think it varies from subject to subject quite a bit.

A dissertation is really just an extended essay. Usually you'd have a fair bit of choice in terms of the title and topic area. It's quite possible she's got more than one to write, but it might also be that those are options and she has to pick from amongst them. But her course specifications should make this clear, and so will her teachers.

Sorry she's not having the best time - lots of people who hate the relentlessness of the workload really like dissertations, though, as you usually get that bit longer to think about what you will write.

SlowlorisIncognito Thu 03-Oct-13 10:47:31

It varies a lot from subject to subject. For most humanities it will be as LDR describes. For sciences, most of the time doing a dissertation involves doing a research project (however, I'm guessing this is not the case, as for these, supervisors are usually allocated in second year, allowing data collection to take place over the summer).

The university will hold a session soon explaining how it all works, as it can be quite institution specific. She should be allocated/allowed to pick a supervisor based on her research interests, who will be able to offer help and advice, and may be allowed to review drafts, depending on the institution's rules.

At this stage, the best thing for her to do is to think about what she might like to research. If there is an area that interests her, she should do a bit of extra reading in this area to see if anything inspires her. If she is really unsure, there may be examples of previous dissertations (from her university) online, that might help her decide what she wants to look into. Once she has a supervisor, they will help her narrow a general idea into a specific question.

If she is really worried, does she have a personal/accademic tutor she could speak to?

Southdevondelight Thu 03-Oct-13 17:28:57

Thank you for your comments, I'm a little more clear now but unfortunately the more I find out, the harder I think DD will find it. She had some excellent extra sessions with two of her tutors which helped her just scrape through year 2 and go on to the 12 month placement. The "real work" increased her confidence and she received high praise from the organisation. It's just the academic/assignments side she struggles with and I know she feels overwhelmed already at the prospect ahead.

We've actually had conversations about would it really be so bad if she didn't complete the final year, and she did say it seemed a shame not to at least try to graduate after just about surviving so far. Then the memories of being in tears of frustration and simply not understanding, let alone producing top quality assignments, come flooding back to her and I am unable to help in any way (and really hurts to stand back and watch).

I am hoping it will all become clearer to her a few weeks down the line. It just doesn't help that her peer groups seem to "get it" and sail through, so confidence dips and she feels even more of a failure to ask for help. Maybe uni isn't for her? And yes, I do realise my role is to remain neutral and just be there to support her decisions smile

senua Thu 03-Oct-13 21:51:20

The good thing about the dissertation is that the student picks the subject: they get to choose the topic that interests them, they get to phrase the question in a way that suits them. Can she pick up on something from her placement experience and use that?

I can understand feeling overwhelmed but you just have to break it down into chunks. If you have to do a 10,000 word essay it sounds daunting. Break it down into a 500 word introduction, a 500 word conclusion and three main points of 3,000 words each and it suddenly sounds a lot easier.

Encourage her to carry on. This is what a degree is all about. It is evidence to others that you can see a project through to completion without teachers/parents/employers having to nag you.
I heard somewhere the other day that, for women, the best paid are those with a HE qualification. Next are those who didn't go to Uni. Bottom of the pile are those who started HE but dropped out.shock

sashh Fri 04-Oct-13 07:37:45

The "real work" increased her confidence and she received high praise from the organisation.

Well there is her dissertation if the organisation isn't too far from uni she could look at employers and students experiences of work placements.

It is important, without it her degree will (in most places) not have a classification and the mark from the dissertation is usually part of the final grade.

Southdevondelight Fri 04-Oct-13 18:27:23

Again, your comments are much appreciated and obviously food for thought.

SlowlorisIncognito Fri 04-Oct-13 18:40:36

Southdevondelight A lot of students feel really overwhelmed at the start of 3rd year/ the start of their dissertation. This is totally normal in my opinion. The dissertation especially is quite different to anything that students have done before at first glance. I think it's a good idea for her to persevere at this stage. Having worries doesn't mean university isn't for her, and she might suprise herself.

I think linking her dissertation to something to do with her work placement would be a good idea, if at all practical. Perhaps this is something she could discuss with potential tutors as an idea?

There are also lots of books out there on how to write an undergraduate dissertation. I don't know if buying a couple of these might help her understand what she's aiming for a bit more?

EduCated Fri 04-Oct-13 18:40:45

I haven't used this particular book, though others in the series are fab, and recommended by my old uni.

Is she an arts/humanities based subject or a science based subject? Depending on course/uni they can range between 5,000 and 15,000 words. As senua says, the best way to do it is to treat it as several shorter essays which you then join together.

Southdevondelight Sat 05-Oct-13 14:36:54

Again, thanks for your further comments/advice. I will suggest looking at some books on undergraduate dissertations. It's a tourism management degree (and I do appreciate that's not on the same level as English, maths or science) but when you don't come from an academic background, it's still hard and I'm very proud of DD's achievements so far. The placement was in a country house hotel with time spent front of house/food & beverage/wedding & events etc and she received praise from many clients and the management team so must have been doing something right!

But now how to translate that into the formal dissertation is what's worrying her sad Any suggestions very welcome. Discussion planned with tutor next week so maybe she'll have a better idea then and feel a little more confident.

mumeeee Sat 05-Oct-13 19:01:46

Tell her to keep going and as other posters have said break it down into smaller chunks. DD2 had a big wobble at the beginning of her final year at uni. She had a lot of assignments to do as well as her dissertation. She felt that she just couldn't concentrate and wouldn't be able to cope. Anyway she spoke to her personal tutor, worked hard and kept going. She finished her degree with a 2:1

EduCated Sun 06-Oct-13 08:30:57

Her tutor/supervisor will be the most important person during he dissertation. They are there to help, guide and advise. I imagine she could do something around suggesting implementing a new management strategy or a new system or something, then do it and write about how it went, as a research project.

And 'just because' she's doing Tourism doesn't mean it's any less difficult. A degree is a degree, no matter what the some snobbish people try and say wink

EduCated Sun 06-Oct-13 08:38:38

Some suggestions here and here. Also, it's the done thing to write your dissertation and then give it the fanciest most technical title you can wink

A good starting point would be to just list all of the topics and things that she's interested in.

And this looks like it could be interesting.

KateCroydon Sun 06-Oct-13 08:46:21

She sounds like a very socially competent young person. She might want to ask if her dissertation could use that. So, for example, the dissertation could be about how much people base their choice of holiday resort on the kids' activities' available and she could interview a dozen or so people and build the dissertation around those quotes. My guess (though am not expert at all on tourism) is that the University would see that sort of thing as good evidence of initiative and original research.

No harm in asking anyway.

WaitingForMe Sun 06-Oct-13 08:52:48

I did fieldwork for my dissertation. Perhaps there's a possibility of this for your daughter. If her placement were happy to work with her again she could plan, execute and report on a project for the hotel (or wherever it was). If she can get uni consent she'd probably really enjoy it and it would be brilliant on her CV.

Topics might be a new booking system. The hypothesis might be that it'd improve efficiency, she could research various systems within academic writing (for the literature review section) and the conclusions should be pretty straightforward.

Oh and if she did this the local press would probably run a short story which the hotel and the university would both like and she'd add PR experience to the CV.

There are lots of options.

senua Sun 06-Oct-13 10:56:59

confidence dips and she feels even more of a failure to ask for help.

At school you are supposed to know all the answers. At University, you realise that no-one knows all the answers (that's why the top of the tree are still asking questions doing research) and the whole point is to ask for help. You are learning how to learn.

IRL does the manager of a hotel (or any business) know all about everything? No; but s/he knows several other people who might. S/he picks their brains, weights the evidence and comes to a conclusion. That's the 'transferrable skill' that the dissertation teaches you.

Southdevondelight Sun 06-Oct-13 21:24:51

Wow, more replies and ideas - thank you all again. If only I can help keep her focussed, spirits up and get through week by week, maybe DD will feel less daunted! Whatever happens and whatever she decides to do, I can't tell you how proud I am that she's got this far.

Cleophie Mon 07-Oct-13 18:23:03

If she stays, as I sincerely hope she does, I'd be happy to proofread her dissertation for free. I'm just setting up my own business, Wheat Eye, writing and reviewing CVs, covering letters, dissertation proofing/editing as well as UCAS personal statement reviewing, proofing and general guidance. I could/would benefit from a PR point of view and your DD would have one less thing to worry about :D

Cleophie Mon 07-Oct-13 18:43:07

Ooh I may have just breached the Mumsnet rules of engagement by appearing to promote, sorry everyone.

Southdevondelight Mon 07-Oct-13 20:04:48

Haha Cleophie - you may well have broken rules, I've no idea. The thing is DD has only just started Year 4 so is miles away from putting pen to paper on any form of dissertation. You'd be in for a long wait before anything was produced to proof-read! Thank you for kind offer though and good luck with your business.

Katkins1 Thu 31-Oct-13 00:35:56

Hi Southdevon,

I'm writing my dissertation this year (year 3, humanities subject). I was struggling with mine (just been accepted to a masters, but no idea how to fund it yet!) and my tutor said : it's meant to be hard. That was her years of experience advice. I've always got along asking lots of questions and talking to people on my course about stuff. I also got to extra stuff in my subject area, that helps.

My advice would be to choose something that she loves, and get lots of help from Uni. Also, the above proofreading service breaks academic rules for most Universities, because its collusion. So don't use anything like that, she can do it, she has got this far.

LalyRawr Thu 31-Oct-13 00:52:46

Definitely use her tutor. Mine was sick of me very helpful when I was doing mine.

Every course and even university's are different. With mine, dissertation was optional. You could do a dissertation on any module you studied thus far, or pick an extra module in your final year.

I did mine on piracy (International criminal law module- actually got to watch Pirates of the Caribbean and say it was for educational purposes!) but others based it on the voting system (constitutional and administrative law) or fathers access rights in relationship breakdown (family law). There is a huge, huge scope and it bloody well helps to pick something you are interested in.

Also, in my uni, if you were doing a dissertation there was a mandatory meeting with your personal tutor once a month. I ended up seeing mine at least once a week, but I seriously cannot emphasise how much support they were happy to give you. Please encourage her to use the resources she has available to her.

No one expects her to know everything. If she did, what is the point of lecturers?

holidaysarenice Thu 31-Oct-13 01:21:06

What made my dissertation easier than essays was that you could hand in a first draft. It often came back with comments on the content. Then all I had to do was make it academic.

So if ur daughter can get the substance there is often a lot of help with they style available.

ammature Sun 10-Nov-13 18:00:46


I supervise dissertations myself in HE and I would say her first point of contact should be to her supervisor. Many of my students are dyslexic and/or not very academic and I personally feel its my role to break it down, into bite sized pieces for them. Making it manageable.

It would be a really bad idea not to finish her degree at this stage, and there is tons of support in uni's to help students like your daughter. At this stage she just needs a planning session with some ideas for her tutor.

She could perhaps do a case study looking into an aspect of something at the internship she has done, keeping her links there and building that relationship. Best of luck to her. I was the first in my family to go into HE, its a fantastic opportunity for her.

EastMids2 Sat 23-Nov-13 20:08:21

OP here, in need of more words of wisdom. November is always a difficult month for DD as it's the anniversary of her dad's death (she's NOT using this as an excuse for anything, just can't help feeling a bit sad and still missing him). Having decided upon and relatively happy about the research for dissertation (dark tourism) she's hit an all time low with current module assignments and is totally overwhelmed. Used a MC1 for assignment last month and simply doesn't understand or is able to do all the reading etc. I have a feeling she's not been attending lectures and is therefore slipping behind even more.

This level of pressure can't go on, she has lost weight, come out in spots and I see her fighting tears when we skype. Because of the huge feeling of failure, she finds it really hard to talk to any of the tutors but is now asking me if there would be any qualification gained from doing 2 years plus 12 month work placement?

She admits maybe university was the wrong path for her but, as mentioned initially, she's the only one in family to venture into higher education and was so proud of this achievement - now it's all gone wrong. All I can do is offer love and home cooking sad

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