Posts Tagged ‘dissertation’

A Master of Science?

August 28, 2009

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Sticky markers and notes post-dissertation.

It’s official: I am now finished with my dissertation, and more importantly, my master’s course! I won’t get my marks until next month and graduation isn’t until December, but I am now free from papers and assignments (at least for the time being). Overall, I am happy with the way the dissertation and course went. There are of course things I wish I could have changed about my paper, but that’s always the case.

Here’s a bit of dissertation advice for future MA and MSc students:

  • Collect a number of take-out menus, you may be too busy to cook.
  • Create PDFs of your documents, so that your formatting remains consistent. If you’re working with multiple documents, you may combine them using a PDF maker.
  • To avoid the crowds, get to the print shop early. I visited the print shop in David Hume Tower a week before the dissertation was due to get price quotes and binding/printing options.
  • Make sure you have enough time to proofread. Big thanks to Naomi Salinas and Thomas Hancock for editing my work.

Good luck and happy mastering! It’s going to be a great next school year.

the big D: draft 1

August 9, 2009

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After three months of intensive research and writing, I have finally finished my first dissertation draft! It still needs a ton of revising (I am about 1,000-2,000 words over the 15,000 word limit), but I am glad to be done with the bulk of it.

To mark this momentous occasion, I’d like to share several dissertation tips:

  • If you have writer’s block, don’t be afraid, just start writing — even if it’s just, “I have writer’s block and I don’t feel like writing.” You’ll be surprised how quickly you start fleshing out your thoughts and ideas.
  • If you get stuck on a section, move on and then come back to it. No point in forcing it.
  • Read your dissertation aloud. This will help you ensure everything flows.
  • In addition to your supervisor, get a friend or two to edit it for you. Ideally, you should get one editor from your field and one from outside.
  • Once you’ve finished a chapter or a major section of your paper,  treat yourself to something special.
  • Once you’ve finished a draft, take a break for a few days, so that you can revise and edit with fresh eyes.

Happy Dissertationing!

from Word(s) to Images to Pages

July 20, 2009

I just completed the first chapter draft (I started with Chapter 3)  of my dissertation, now only two more to go! I started writing my draft in Microsoft Word — the universal default for word processing, but have indefinitely put my relationship with Word on pause to start a love affair with iWork Pages.

Pages is much more amiable when it comes to inserting images and formatting. What takes me twenty minutes to lay out in Word, takes only about seconds in Pages.

Since I am using dozens of photographs in my dissertation, having software that operates not just as a word processor, but also, as an image processor is of extreme importance.

Although InDesign is probably the best program for image-based design — after all, it is the industry standard, Pages is perfect for novices who would like to incorporate more design into their writing.

Although Pages still has its faults (not everything is as intuitive as it should be), I think I have a much healthier relationship with my dissertation.

going back to the research object

July 8, 2009

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Sometimes it’s easy to get lost in theory. One theorist leads to another,  and soon you have a stack of books and a folder full of notes that are too big to cover in a 15,000-word paper.

So what do you?

Go back to the research object. I started working through my theories, but after having produced a 12-page outline for a dissertation that will probably be about 45 pages, I decided to go back to the ethnographic material I gathered during my fieldwork in May.

Now, that I’m actually going through my research data, I have a clearer sense of what theories will be useful for my dissertation and which ones I can discard.

The point of the dissertation is to build on theory, but the point of theory is to understand the world. The trick is learning not to lose sight of both points.

[Photo via Flickr user *Kicki*]

working solo: tips for avoiding procrastination

June 13, 2009

"Students Studying"

Now that classes have come to an end, I spend most of my time alone reading and writing for my dissertation. In the UK, education is fairly hands-off, especially at the graduate level. Your supervisor will provide you with guidance, but for the most part, you are left to your own devices.

It is easy to get distracted or overwhelmed if you don’t have strategies for staying focused. I’ve come up with a list of things that have helped me stay on task. A lot of it is common sense, but I’d though I’d share it anyway.

  • Create a time line with your supervisor. Set deadlines for outlines, drafts, and meetings. This will make the 15,000 words seem less daunting and more manageable.
  • Use detailed labels for your articles, photos, documents, and folders. Your computer will search for files more efficiently if you use “_” instead of spaces (e.g. “Lury_Branding).
  • Continuously back up your files through an external hard drive or online. Also, save incrementally and under different names.
  • Maintain an up-to-date bibliography. The last thing you want is being unable to use a quote due to a missing source.
  • Establish a specific time and place for studying. I prefer working on the kitchen table in the afternoons, but many of my friends get too distracted at home, so they study in the library or their departmental computer lab in the mornings and afternoons.
  • Enjoy your evenings and weekends. As attempting as it is to just continue working through the night, give your mind a break — time to just relax, watch youtube videos, or hang out with friends. I like going to the gym or for a bike ride after a day of intense critical theory.
  • Reward yourself with a treat every time you finish a goal. My friends and I usually go for drinks at the pub after big submissions.

Photo by Flickr user Canadian Veggie

blogging as research?: the politics of blogging

May 16, 2009

I will be heading to Seoul this Monday to conduct research on the branding of English in South Korea. I recently met with my dissertation supervisor and asked if it would be appropriate for me to share my fieldwork experiences on this blog if I kept my posts anonymous and more general. Due to the ethical implications, he dissuaded me from blogging.

Even if one anonymizes their research subjects, there are always clues that make it possible for people to trace the identities of your subjects. Furthermore, there is the chance that your research subjects or someone they know could read your blog and completely disagree with the way in which the information is presented and interpreted. While this is an issue with any form of research, the chances of offense and (mis)representation are often greater since blogging is usually employed as an instaneous form of communication. It generally is not used for long-term critical analysis.

This is not to say that blogging cannot take the form of ethical research. However, certain research topics lend themselves better to this medium. Just because we can blog at any moment in time and any place, doesn’t mean we should.

research tips: stalking theorists and mashing keywords

May 10, 2009

If you’re in need of more sources for your thesis or dissertation, check the university staff pages of the seminal theorists and thinkers in your field to see what journals they have published in.

I just checked out communications scholar Theo Van Leeuwen’s staff page at the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia. Having published in close to 30 different journals, Van Leeuwen’s list of publications is quite helpful and very impressive!

Also, when you’re searching for articles, be creative with keywords.

Think of all the different ways your research topic could be categorized. For example, for my research on the branding of English in South Korea, I have used a wide range of search words, including: commodification, Korean, brand, multimodality, communication, education, and globalization.

Be imaginative and resourceful, and most importantly, have fun!

learning how not to be too ambitious?

April 25, 2009

7971252_7e070ade7bOne of the biggest challenges of writing a master’s dissertation — or conducting any large-scale research project for that matter — is learning how to focus and choose a specific research object.

If you’re too ambitious, you may get overwhelmed and lost in an overabundance of ideas and end up writing something very general.

Even if you’re researching a field that obviously hasn’t been really researched, it may be too much for you to take on for a masters. If that’s the case, consider continuing on for a PhD. or a research fellowship.

The trick is finding a research gap in your field of study, but a gap that’s not too big.

Photo by Flickr user gapsi *your guide

the art of bibliography

February 17, 2009

There is a hilarious Facebook group called “Grad Students: They’re Not Bad People, They Just Made Terrible Life Choices” I’ve been tempted to join. The homepage of the group contains a list of defining grad student characteristics. I probably laughed the hardest when I came across #9:

“You might be a Grad Student if you find the bibliographies of books more interesting than the actual text.”

While it may be tempting to save money by not printing out the last few pages of a journal article, which may contain only a list of the works cited, don’t underestimate the theoretical and creative potential of the bibliography. Especially when you’re beginning your research and starting to think about the literature review.

One of the major components of the graduate dissertation is the literature review — a discussion of the major theoretical works, perspectives, and thinkers within your discipline(s). The purpose of the literature review is to not only provide your reader with a background of your research object, but also, to demonstrate your knowledge and understanding of the field.

If you’re overwhelmed by the sheer volume of books and journals in your field, a bibliography is a great way to started and get a snapshot of the essential texts and authors. How do you find a good bibliography? Well first you need to have at least one key book, article, or text. For example, if you are conducting research on gender from a Cultural Studies perspective, you’d probably peruse through the bibliographies of Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble and Donna Haraway’s A Cyborg Manifesto to get an initial sense of the field. In addition to bibliographies, anthologies and course syllabuses are also excellent points of entry.

Also, remember to think of the bibliography not only as a starting point for yourself, but also, for others. When putting together the bibliography for your dissertation, don’t just see it as a mundane, technical requirement, but as a piece of creative writing that has the ability to change the way people think about the world.

Perhaps, I’m being overzealous (I am a grad student after all :)), but this story makes me think otherwise. A professor recently told our class about an alumnus who received a distinction for their dissertation largely because of their bibliography. The student’s unique combination of Western and Eastern sources was considered an important contribution to the field because it was seen as an effective starting point for other researchers.

Sometimes the bibliography really is more significant than the actual text.

things you wish you knew

February 5, 2009

Today, I met up with an alumnus of last year’s Cultural Studies Programme to talk about how she conducted fieldwork in China for her dissertation last summer. It was really helpful hearing about her experiences applying theory to practice, documenting the city, narrowing down her focus, finding contacts, and getting funding for her research. The last bit was perhaps the most surprising.

She told me that she received partial funding for her fieldwork through the University of Edinburgh Small Project Grant. I had heard of this award, but had no idea how easy it was to apply and receive funding until this afternoon. The application is fairly straightforward; it basically just requires a project outline, budget, and a signature from your course supervisor (no letter of rec necessary!). She told me that pretty much all of the applicants she knew received funding.

Having this insider tip made me re-assess the direction of my dissertation. Since I thought wouldn’t able to go back to Seoul to conduct fieldwork, I began framing my research in the context of memory and distance. But now that fieldwork is a possibility, I need to think about how I’ll incorporate the physical space of the city into my thinking.

To get the most of out grad school in the UK, you have to put forth a lot of initiative. Unfortunately, unlike the States, grants and scholarships are few and far between in the UK, especially for master’s students. Since there are a limited number of financial awards, they are often not widely advertised. You’ll probably have to dig a bit deeper to find funding for your research.

You’ve probably heard this many times before, but I can’t emphasize the importance of networking in academia. It’s these insider tips that remind me why I should be meeting with more students and professors outside of my programme.