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”.

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: At SThree, we like to be differe...

Guru Careers: Graduate Account Executive / Digital Account Executive

£20k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Graduate Digital Account Exec ...

SThree: Graduate Recruitment Resourcer

£20000 - £22500 per annum + OTE £30K: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: At SThree, we like to be differe...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living