Next Steps: Dissertation Woes

There is a future myth that exists in your primary years of university. Whispered from the mouths of haggard later year students teetering on the edge of the emotional precipice, it tells of the Herculean task of undertaking your very own final year academic research; transcending from mere plebeian undergraduate status to true academic. Kind of.

Writing a dissertation or final project remains, for most of your university career, a distant reality – something that you’ll have to encounter eventually at some future point with plenty of blurry half-remembered, alcohol fuelled nights between now and then to blissfully erase the worry of having to consider what appears to be such a vast, time consuming project. That is, until this nightmarish rite of passage suddenly sneaks up on you out of the blue, catching you totally off guard and demanding more attention than Donald Trump’s fake tan on a brightly lit television screen. But what about my Nobel peace prize winning research idea that I know exists SOMEWHERE in the deepest recesses of my brain?! It hasn’t materialised yet! Sod’s law is a cruel mistress; rule one of writing a dissertation.

Rule two: it will become your new unwanted obsession. Never has anything haunted my every waking moment with such a ferocious, burning intensity. I wake up in cold sweats, my subconscious having come up with that chapter title of absolute perfection that alluded me in my hours of infuriated staring at the library walls – only to be unable to recall it thirty seconds later. My morning routine now involves an Olympic-inspired sprint in my towel to try and find a notebook to record shower thought epiphanies before they escape back into the void of forgotten ideas. Usain Bolt, eat your heart out; I’ll be in contention for that gold medal if this keeps up much longer.

Rule three: if you’re collecting qualitative data you’ll become a total, shameless user. Anyone you know that may be a potential interviewee, survey participant or focus group member will be harassed in an attempt to increase data collection. I am truly, truly sorry for my sins of causing mild-to-moderate irritation to basically everyone I know through my survey distribution this summer.

Rule four: caffeine will become one of your staple dietary requirements. You’ll have a coffee cup permanently glued to your hand, whilst your Tesco shop consists predominantly of Lucozade. Depending on your level of dedication, you may even reach a stage where you’re not sure if the shivers you’re experiencing are withdrawal, or just the frigid Glaswegian winter setting in.

Rule five: you will develop the most precariously fraught relationship of your life with your chosen research area – a whole, radical redefining of the love-hate phenomenon. As a Geographer writing about environmentalism, I am currently experiencing one long, convoluted crisis about my Western identity and how I’m personally contributing to the perpetuation of the capitalist agenda. The usual things that keep you up at night, you know. In desperate need of a fix of the aforementioned caffeine on my way to uni the other morning, I found myself in the bowels of corporate evil itself: Starbucks. Not only did I spent my wait in the queue contemplating my inner moral standing, but when I finally laid hands on my holy grail, they’d spelled my name wrong on the cup. A totally forgivable mistake. However, it led to a split second contemplation of embracing this new alter ego named Addie and scurrying off to some distant corner of the globe to escape the daily worrying concerning the orientation of my moral compass and whether 10,000 words is a too much, too little, or some kind of weird numerical representation of the phrase ‘make it stop, please’.

Through all of this, you will probably become accustomed to the eerie, hallowed halls of the university library as it exists in the small hours of the morning. Exchanging looks of sorrow and exhaustion with the other husks of fourth year students present, however, may provide you with the unspoken support you need to power on through. After all, it’s a rite of passage that everyone has to endure in order to graduate, and there’s no bonding agent quite like a cocktail of sleep deprivation and stress.

At this point in time, as my December deadline looms ever closer, I cannot begin to fathom the sense of relief that will arise from handing in my dissertation. That is, until the subsequent worrying that will undoubtedly ensue kicks in. Did I even include a contents page? Were there page numbers? Speaking of which – can I even count anymore? I think I even spelled my name wrong. What even is my name? Oh right; it’s Addie, not Annie. Thanks, Starbucks.

[Annie Milburn]

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: