Hi Everyone, A lot has changed since I last updated you. I am now totally finished with my classes and my coursework and the only thing left on my degree checklist is my dissertation. My dissertation, which is often referred to as a thesis, is a final research project to be handed in at the end of August to mark the end of our degree. It is worth a third of our degree and is the biggest piece of individual research that many of us will have done to date. An Msc thesis takes place in a very similar style to an undergraduate dissertation – only with much more independence and at a more advanced level. I have also found that I am treated more like an actual researcher at MSc level and given the opportunity to grow and develop as a researcher.
Finding a dissertation supervisor is something that I began to think about before I even started any of my classes this year. I have always been passionate about research and was keen to find a supervisor or project that suited my interests. My degree were given the option of choosing a project that had already been designed, many of them being remote due to COVID-19, or finding a supervisor and designing a project together. Due to COVID-19 and the many restrictions we have faced this year, it was advised that students would probably be less impacted by the pandemic if they chose one of the projects advertised but were equally supported in finding a different supervisor of their interest.
It is extremely important to choose a topic you are passionate about. I massively enjoyed my undergraduate dissertation process and have loved my MSc research project so far and I feel very lucky to have secured projects with supervisors who motivated and inspired me in my research. This means that actually sitting to write my thesis and do the research does not feel like a daunting task as it is a topic I am truly passionate about and something I enjoy learning and writing about. Choosing a topic that you aren’t interested in out of easiness or simplicity may seem like the easy option to begin with, but most people seem to find it makes the experience much less enjoyable and causes the process to feel like a chore rather than an experience to enjoy.
The research project choices on offer for my MSc were very varied and there was truly something on offer for everyone. It’s a great opportunity to use the thesis to develop the skills and experience you may need in the future. If you tailor your project to your future needs, you may be able to gain enough experience needed for a PhD or research assistant role following on from the MSc. I am hoping to work in clinical neuropsychology so while looking for topics that interested me, I knew I wanted a project that allowed me to work with participants and to gain experience in forms of neuropsychological testing.
My experience of my MSc dissertation so far at UCL has been very enjoyable. I have been integrated into the lab group that my supervisor runs and the group is extremely supportive and have helped me to become and think like a better researcher. This experience has shown me that we can learn a lot from one another and that this is a huge benefit to being part of a collaborative lab.
I thought it might be useful for me to share some of my advice and things I have learned along the way. In terms of my dissertation project, it was a pre-existing longitudinal study that I have now joined and I will be analysing the data collected so far. I identified this project and contacted the supervisor as quickly as I could in order to start to test the waters and get a feel for whether or not the project was for me. Once I knew it was the right project, I secured it as soon as possible which is something I would recommend. It is always good to be organised but it is particularly important when starting an MSc as classes and coursework begin to pile on fast and the best project opportunities tend to be snapped up quickly.
Hurdles along the way are to be expected. Research is never a smooth or linear process and although it can be disheartening, don’t be too disappointed if you stumble here and there! Hopefully most supervisors would be as supportive as mine is as I have always been able to approach my supervisor if I was struggling or had any concerns.
In terms of writing up your final dissertation, my main piece of advice that has worked very well for me in my undergraduate and postgraduate degree is to front-load your work. The deadline might feel like it’s ages away and you have plenty of time but it really does come round fast and there is a lot more work to do than it may first seem. It is a good idea to do as much work and preparation as you can as early as you can in between coursework and exams. This makes the experience a lot less stressful and gives you time to draft and re-write as you go along. I would recommend drafting as early as possible and editing continuously as you carry out your research. I also prefer to have a clear plan and timeline of when I want to have a draft and final version of each section finished. I plan each section in quite a lot of detail before I begin to write so that it is less confusing and overwhelming when I sit down to begin typing.
Finally, enjoy the process. Being able to do your own research project is a great opportunity and something to make the most out of. A dissertation isn’t something to dread and certainly isn’t too overwhelming if you break it down and give yourself enough time. If you find something you’re passionate about, you will probably love the research process. Good luck to anyone writing their dissertation and thesis at the moment and to any future postgraduate students, it’s never too early to start thinking about your future research!
Thanks for reading and listening,
Morgan Daniel is an MSc Student at University College London, studying the along the ‘Dementia: Causes, Treatments and Research (Neuroscience)’ track, Originally from Loch Lomond, Morgan completed her BSc in Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of Glasgow in 2019, and she hates all forms of potato! Morgan is sharing her MSc journey during 2020 / 2021 with NIHR Dementia Researcher.