An ode to my MA dissertation

It's hard work and the end might not always be in sight - but it's important to love what you're studying, says Harriet Williamson

I’m beginning to fall in love with my dissertation. My room is in a shameful state, covered in papers and library books and sticky notes, I’ve been wearing jumpers stolen off my dad for about two months, and I’m not great conversation at parties because no one wants to talk about Thatcherism and heroin addiction when they’re trying to have a good time. All my undergraduate friends have finished their final exams and are celebrating in a haze of alcohol and festival-planning, but the jealousy I expected to consume me just hasn't appeared.

I admit it, I’m a geek. I love being deeply engrossed in a single subject, excavating new readings and perspectives like I’m an archaeologist at a dig. I’m not enjoying my dissertation because I think what I’ve put down on paper is particularly good or special, but because I am able to sit at my desk every day and focus on something I’m deeply interested in. As a rule, it’s crucial to have strong feelings about the topic or period you’re writing about when penning a dissertation. These feelings are what keep you motivated through the long weeks of summer when you could be in the beer garden or wading through a sea of Glastonbury mud.

During an undergraduate degree and even in the first two terms of your MA, there are bound to be modules and texts and topics that you weren’t particularly inspired by or passionate about. Your dissertation shouldn’t include material that doesn’t interest you. It can be an opportunity to give your academic enthusiasms free reign, to be outrageous and creative, as one of my course friends is, by going completely leftfield and using Fifty Shades of Grey as her primary text. After nearly four years in higher education, I feel finally able to be truly autonomous in terms of what I choose to write about.

Equally rewarding is the opportunity to do your own research and come to independent conclusions, particularly if you’ve chosen an innovative dissertation topic that hasn’t already had masses written on it. The taught MA is expected to prepare candidates for the lonely rigors of doctoral study, and it is through the dissertation that students get a real taste of what the PhD might be like, should they choose to do it. The opportunity to receive rigorous criticism and much-needed encouragement from your dissertation tutor, someone who shares your research interests, can be completely invaluable during dissertation term. My tutor likes to give me 9am meetings. I can’t decide if it’s a good sign or not. Some of my peers have minimal contact with their dissertation tutors and are perfectly happy with that, but knowing that the option is available provides a certain sense of structure and support.

There will be moments, of course, where I just want to hurl my laptop out of the window. Just as you can’t spend every second of the day with your significant other because it gets weird and you both start talking in a bizarre made-up language, time away from your dissertation is necessary. As long as you take breaks, see people and remain at least a little bit connected to the outside world, writing an MA dissertation can be a deeply fulfilling experience, both academically and personally. As my friend James, an MA in Modern and Contemporary Literature, likes to remind himself: “my current 'job' is to sit around in the sun listening to Belle & Sebastian whilst reading and writing about David Foster Wallace, and that's pretty damn fun”.

Arts and Entertainment
musicBand's first new record for 20 years has some tough acts to follow
peopleAt least it's for a worthwhile cause
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Life and Style
Sexual health charities have campaigned for the kits to be regulated
healthAmerican woman who did tells parents there is 'nothing to be afraid of'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Newly Qualified Teachers

£90 - £115 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: We are currently looking fo...

Year 3/4 Teacher

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Job Share Year 3/4 Teacher...

Chemistry Teacher

£85 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunity for Secondary ...

English Teacher

£85 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunity for Secondary ...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments