living and learning

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Dissertation - stage one

So we've been allocated dissertation tutors. I got Nicky OG*, and I must say, she is one bold geographer. One tutorial later and our preconceptions of a 'proper dissertation' lay in shreds on the office floor - it's definitely one of those things you itch to share, so share I shall.

Rule No.1: pick something you're interested in.

Matt mentioned 'picking something that inspires you' in lectures, but Nicky really hammered the message home. 'Does that topic truly interest you, or is it just because it's a current issue and there's a lot of public debate floating around?' She lists some common picks: recycling, fairtrade, recycling, global warming, recycling...'Every year,' she gasps, 'every year we get a bunch of people doing recycling!! I mean, bins are boring!' Sure enough, I instantly spotted a pile of dissertations on the floor with the topmost one labelled 'blah blah recycling blah blah'. Nicky went on to explain that such topics are actually rather tricky to do well, because there's a lot of journalistic material but relatively little concrete research. A cloud of 'hot air', if you will.

So what are good topics for an undergraduate dissertation? What you are interested in. 'Virtually anything can be seen through a geographical lense,' Nicky explains, 'so don't be afraid to go for "your thing".' Apparently bungee jumping and music and street crime all make for great dissertations if that's what you're passionate about. It's going to take 12 months including summer; why not enjoy yourself while you're at it? An easy way to start would be to go to your happy place and start jotting downing things that really matter to you. Shuffle them, rearrange them by order of preference, lather rinse repeat. This is the first step towards a good dissertation.

Rule No.2: don't narrow down your topic just yet.

It's tempting to say you've got your stuff worked out. But before you attempt a serious literature review, it's only based on your own fuzzy picture of the field - which may or may not be accurate. Most probably not. Perhaps you will find more suitable 'jumping off points' after reading in and around the field.

Now this is where your dissertation tutor comes in. If you haven't done so yet, definitely go and ask them where you should start reading. My topic is 'public learning spaces', so I looked up papers on education, libraries, museums etc. What additional key words did Nicky suggest? Concept stores. High rise buildings. Architects. Umm...seriously, you ask? I wouldn't have believed it either. So definitely go see your tutor, they know much more than you do.

That's it for now. We've been given a week to ponder on our idiosyncrasies - yep that's stage one of the dissertation adventure!

* Order of the Goat (2004)


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