The personal cost of your dissertation

As dissertation deadlines begin to appear, Eleanor Doughty realises just how much that single piece of work might end up costing you

This week I’ve been thinking a lot about the cost of education. It’s my dissertation supervisor’s fault. She’s new in my life, and boy has she made me think. But what I didn’t expect was the personal cost my dissertation would cause.

There’s a lot to be said for being really, really obsessed with your thesis. I am. My supervisor assumes I’m bonkers, my postie thinks I’ve begun an illegal business and everyone in immediate vicinity is on first name terms with my authors of choice. It’s an educational hazard, this dissertation lark. But great, until it starts to creak at your bank balance. Which mine has. 

I didn’t realise how much until this week. Meeting with my new tutor pal just before she asked me to write 4,000 preparatory words, she wanted an illustrated list of everything I’d read in the last six months. Upon the production of my nicely formatted summer reading list, the remark came it might have been cheaper to write about something more, how shall we put it, normal. Cue nervous laughter. She’s definitely right.

I have scoured libraries across the capital looking for material. I was all geared up the join the London Library before I realised it was out of my price range. Which is, London Library officials, if you’re reading, an invitation to drop the student rates, please.

I’m a British Library, Senate House Library, Whitechapel local library and of course college library member which, conversely to its east end neighbour, is much less helpful than one might expect. But most of the books I really need are first editions hidden in private rooms in Derbyshire country spreads, or cut from publishing after the war for inappropriate content. I have persisted in my search like a 14-year-old girl with a crush, and now have Skoob Books on speed dial and my hands in the archives at several other (secret) gems I’ve uncovered.

It’s got me considering the real price of education. Not just the fees, but also the personal financial strain outside that; what you must do, should you want a first. At school, a friend went to South Africa for work experience. I worked in a high street shop and had a blast; she helped the children. People thought it madness, but it was simply a part of her learning experience. She saved up in excess of £3,000 for it, and got us to sponsor her for stuff.

This summer, I’ve spent time in newspaper archives – the privilege earned from unpaid internships and persistent emailing of librarians – and I’ve read almost the whole of 1920s upper crust London in print. But I haven’t been, as another friend has, to Boston to visit John F. Kennedy’s presidential library. I didn’t schlep to Munich to visit Hitler’s hangouts, to help my dissertation either, like another in my year. 

I just strolled about Eaton Square, because that’s my essay’s background. I chose a London-centric topic, which is handy, but not so much if you live in Edinburgh. And it makes me wonder how far one should go for that first.

As catchy Icona Pop's single goes, "I don't care, I love it, I don't care".  And to quote Lionel Bart, "I’d do anything, for you dear". Well, nearly anything.

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