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Surviving My Dissertation

How to Come Out the Other End

Started Hailing Sorry for the Hoods

The word "dissertation" has the ability to strike fear into even the strongest hearts and minds. 

A dissertation means the end of University, the end of security, the beginning of the unknown and a huge deciding piece for what level degree you get. 

It will cause numerous breakdowns, shutdowns, stress related rants, crying fits, and also will give you the ability to fall asleep at 6 PM one night and not be able to sleep at all the next. 

However, I submitted my dissertation two days ago and the relief is immeasurable. 

As an Ocean Science and Marine Conservation student my dissertation was entitled:

"Using a Platform of Opportunity to assess the distribution and behaviour of cetaceans in Plettenberg Bay, South Africa."

I flew to South Africa last summer and collected all of my data (and had an amazing time and experience whilst out there) and life was looking up. If this is what a dissertation took then I was all for it, flying all over the place on boats all the time... loving life. 

But then I got home. 

Now, a dissertation is by no means easy—it will test your patience, your brain, and your motivation but it is so worth it. 

Here are just a few tips I have after going through the process myself:

1. Structure

List everything! Make lists of lists of lists. Cross things off one at a time, draw stars, put them on your walls, write the list on one of your walls if you really want to. But this allows you to get straight in your head everything you need to do and the order in which you need to do it. Also by crossing things off one at a time it makes the job a lot more manageable and you can physically see progress in the amount of work you complete.

2. Environment

It is a well known fact that everyone performs better in different environments. I know that my friends tend to work better at home, whereas I get way too distracted and mess about for half the day. My prime environment was the library - I plugged my headphones in, had spotify playing, sat away in the corner with some food, a drink, easy access to the toilets and I just worked away. There was no excuse for me to move other than the toilet and I had no comfort/home distractions. Knowing and working to this made my library days a lot more efficient than my work from home days.

3. Routine

The whole of third or final year needs a routine if I'm completely honest. However, when it comes to the time of the year or even the days that you dedicate to dissertation writing—you need a strict routine. By setting an alarm, getting up, sorting your room out, having a shower, and getting ready and then eating your breakfast, you can prepare for the day. I usually had all of that done by 9 AM giving me the vast majority of the day to work in. This also meant that I was in the right mind frame for work as I was washed and dressed.

4. Handbook

This one may be a little unorthodox. However, before I even attempted writing my dissertation, I made myself a handbook. I listed all the different headings and subheadings I would need to include in my dissertation and then under each heading I created bullet pointed lists. This went as far as the photographs I wanted to use, the equipment (that was not its own subheading but within another), the health and safety precaution, and the different appendices I would need to add. By having the handbook and therefore being able to refer back and highlight/annotate as things developed—I knew I wouldn't forget to add anything. 

5. Drafts

You will go through so many drafts on your way to the finished product. You will change half of what you're writing about four times, include then delete then update figures and tables twelve times and it won't stop. But without those drafts you will never be able to polish off your work. To think that you can complete an entire dissertation in one or two drafts is completely insane and quite naive. The more drafts you have, the better your work will be, guaranteed!

6. Breaks

DON'T EVER FORGET! You need to take regular breaks. There is absolutely no point powering through when you're exhausted so your work will be mediocre at best because once you are thinking clearly again, you'll just have to re do what you have already done. If you are tired, go to bed. If you need half an hour because your brain doesn't work, take it. And if you need a day of doing something else, then do it. Come back to it with fresh eyes in a few days and you'll see things you couldn't before and improve in ways you didn't know you needed to. 

7. Listen.

Listen to your advisor. To your friends. To your mother or father. To your body. They know you best, they know you too well and if you start completely disregarding what they are telling you - then you'll never get anywhere. 

8. Don't freak out.

Even in the deep dark depths of your dissertation, when you can't see the light at the end of the tunnel and you don't think you're going to meet your deadline and everything is going to be ruined and you're going to fail and it's all just gone wrong. Take a deep breath, count to 10, go and get a drink or a snack, watch an episode of something, go and have a chat... just remember that no matter what, if you put your mind to it, then you will get it done. 

9. Timing

DO NOT leave it all to the last minute. Don't think that you will be fine so you won't bother submitting a draft because that's foolish and naive. Time out your chapters, or your pages—work to a quota each day or week or even month. Set yourself a timetable if you are really bad at meeting deadlines. You need to keep up to the time frame as much as possible to reduce your stress and to keep everything moving smoothly so that you have the time at the end to do final checks.

10. Final Checks

Once it has all been written and looked over and edited 20,000 times by just as many people, you need to do final checks. These include throwing it into grammarly. Checking for plagiarism, checking for spelling mistakes in references, making sure the format is exactly as instructed to be and that you are happy with the way it looks. These checks can allow you to make very minor but also vital changes to your dissertation that could improve your marks dramatically.

But above all else, try and enjoy writing it! It is all your choice after all.

I hope this helped at least one other person. I would have loved this information before starting mine.

Lots of love, L.

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