Share via Email Writing a dissertation can be one of the hardest tasks a university student has to accomplish — but it will come to an end. Luckily for me, my D-Day dissertation hand-in day has already been and gone. But I remember it well. The 10,word spiral-bound paper squatted on my desk in various forms of completion was my Allied forces; the history department in-tray was my Normandy.
My dissertation provided me with the chance to do so. But a little over a year later, I found myself turning in a paper entitled: In a module that—more than any other—was supposed to be my own, how on earth had I managed to end up so far from my chosen topic?
Part of the reason I ended up writing about gender and memory and culture in the USSR, rather than literature and totalitarianism, was that I was assigned a dissertation supervisor who specialised in culture and gender. So many, in fact, that this amounted to pretty much the same thing.
The upshot was that a labour of love became a burden, into which I begrudgingly sank countless hours of research.
I loved History and every other module I took, but I grew to hate this one. Perhaps it was precisely because I loved all my other modules that I persevered. The history of didactic poetry, the spread of Greek culture across the Mediterranean, a comparative approach to the history of violence—I was so engrossed by the range and depth of these modules that I suppose I just reasoned my dissertation worries away; what did I have to complain about if one module happened to be a chore?
Over the final year of study, undergraduates meet with their supervisors more than once a term, and during these meetings I found that most of my ideas were either discouraged with a wry smile or a raised eyebrow or were simply brushed aside. Going back through my university e-mails reacquainted me with this miserable experience, and allowed me to reconstruct a timeline of events that I hope will serve as a salutary warning to other undergraduates who find themselves in a similar position… 28 April It is nearing the end of my second year at university.
In my final year I have elected to write a dissertation and this requires the submission of a project proposal. I send the module coordinator an email indicating my interest in totalitarianism and Russian literature. I receive a positive response. This document is meant to help faculty assess the viability of proposed research areas and allocate an appropriate supervisor.
I explain that I want to analyse the relationship between totalitarianism and literature in the USSR during the mid-twentieth century. I will be looking at the writers who chose not to emigrate, such as Sholkhov and Gorky, and how they survived and worked within the Soviet system.
She insists that the Soviet Union during the s and s was not totalitarian, and that using totalitarianism as an analytical framework has long since been dismantled by revisionist scholarship.
Clearly my supervisor knows more about Soviet history than I do. Nevertheless, I counter, surely the term still has some analytical value. A long exchange ensues, during which we debate whether or not there is anything salvageable in the term.
My supervisor seems peculiarly determined to render it obsolete. She firmly advises me against making totalitarianism the focus of my dissertation. She makes her case with emphatic certainty—the scholarship on this matter, she tells me, is settled.
She is so dismissive that I begin to feel foolish for having even proposed it. Still determined to find a way into totalitarianism, I decide to revise my approach.
I send her an email, asking for her opinion on both these ideas. I do not tell her that I intend to use them as a way back into totalitarianism.
Her reply is generally supportive of both these ideas. However, she adds that I should look beyond literature and consider other cultural forms as well, such as film.
Different dissertation advisors have different approaches to supervising a dissertation. Some are extremely hands on, to the point of working over every thought and every sentence. Not too many are like that, because if they were, they would never do anything else with their life. “I wanted to quit my side job to write my dissertation, but it would not be wise. Thank you for help and for writing the most intricate parts for me. I saved the job and I have a well-written custom dissertation to present to the committee.” Ask Support to Submit. Our company's support team is available 24/7. Writing a dissertation can be one of the hardest tasks a university student has to accomplish – but it will come to an end. Photograph: Randy Faris/Corbis The sun is shining but many students.
And if there is enough translated literature, then why not give me the time to me to collect it? Again, she advises me against this. In an email I send her after the meeting, I finally concede defeat in this battle, and ask her to recommend a concept with which I can engage if I cannot write about totalitarianism.
She replies that it is not a good idea to focus on just one thing at undergraduate level: Surely I can study a small part of a big idea and still hope to contribute something of value? How can I expect to contribute to multiple historiographies without making my dissertation disjointed and piecemeal?
By now, I have the feeling that my supervisor and I are at cross-purposes. It seems that we approach history in fundamentally different ways, and I begin to wonder whether her specialist field of study should have sounded an alarm earlier in the process.
My working title is now:Review my dissertation +12, do 20 multiplication problems, draw a pretty picture, and write an essay to santa saying for being bad all because he hid from her.
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How often have you postponed boning up on the thesis and then googled the request “I need to write my dissertation now”? Probably, it happened sometimes. Different dissertation advisors have different approaches to supervising a dissertation. Some are extremely hands on, to the point of working over every thought and every sentence.
Not too many are like that, because if they were, they would never do anything else with their life.