Guide to University: The Dissertation

So you’ve finally made it to (what is most likely) your final year of university. You’re struck with a mixture of excitement, panic, awe, fear, anxiety, pure terror, and just a general feeling of being overwhelmed. If you’re in a career-guided degree, like Medicine or Engineering, then you won’t have to deal with one of the more larger pressures that everyone else goes through (aka what the hell am I going to do when I get out of here, how do I find jobs, how do I get interviews, someone please just help me etc), so enjoy that. However, what most people will have to suffer through, most of the time out of choice, is The Dissertation.

No one really knows what The Dissertation actually is – even halfway through writing it some people still don’t understand what it is – but essentially, or rather ‘for the most part’, it is a large essay which is seen as the main project of your final year. Although for most of us The Dissertation counts for just as much as some of our other modules, employers often ask about your mark for The Dissertation as it’s one of the only essays you’ll write which is entirely dependent on your own work. Sure, no one writes your essays for you (unless you are a cheat in which case you’re not welcome here), but there is a lot of work done for you and usually other people writing on the same thing. When it comes to The Dissertation, not only do you have to think of your own niche subject to write about (no vague or broad titles allowed), you have to do 100% of the research. Your title will likely change two, three, or even five times over the whole course of The Dissertation – sometimes just a few mere weeks before the deadline.

As someone who has only just handed in their Dissertation, I think I can safely say, now that it’s over, I’m glad I ended up writing one. A Dissertation allows you to write about what you find interesting, and sometimes is more enjoyable than your other subjects as you choose which bits to focus on, again, because it’s all your choice and preference. However, that does not mean that it’s not one giant ball of stress that weighs you down over the whole course of your year. So here are a few tips from one student to another on how to survive The Dissertation.

lets-do-this-ucas-gif.gif

forums.thenest

First of all, once your penultimate year is over, you’ll have the whole Summer free ahead of you, and you’ll probably be planning a nice long break – and you deserve it. However, make Future You grateful by doing some reading in this break. I know, I know, it sucks, but just do a bit. Even if it’s just one or two books, or a few articles, that’s one or two books/articles less that Future You will have to do later. What truly helped me was actually figuring out exactly what I wanted to write about over the summer. I did my Dissertation on the presentation of Ancient Heroes by Modern Female Writers, and it was over the course of the Summer that I found out which books I did, and most definitely did not, want to focus on. A lot of people entered their final year having no clue what to write about, so it’s helpful to get that out of the way. And, above all, make sure you pick something that you like. Yeah, maybe you’ll lose some love for it over the course of the year, but you don’t want to be stuck working on something that bores you out of your mind.

Secondly, organise your time. Yeah, sounds simple, but do people always do it? Nope. If I could go back, I would definitely do things differently. At the start of the year, the April/May deadline seems like a long, long way away, so it’s easy to not think about The Dissertation that much. And then you start working and doing other essays, so it takes a backseat. I had the general plan of writing three chapters overall with an introduction and conclusion, so the first chapter was aimed to be finished by Christmas, the second after February Reading Week/Half Term, and the third by the end of term (which was two or three weeks before the deadline). However, what you don’t take into account is the simple fact that the first draft will not be your final draft. Sure, if you’re like me, you can finish a chapter by Christmas, but not actually finish it. I lucked out with a great supervisor, and when he sent back my first draft with a gazillion annotations and corrections, I came to the realisation that – even though I felt organised – I was already behind. In February I was still trying to redo the first chapter whilst doing the second, and when the second was sent back to me I was rewriting two chapters whilst trying to start my initial research for the third. So please, to save yourself, think ahead and organise your time. This is why employers like The Dissertation – it’s physical proof of your own proactivity and self-motivation.

Third, and I think three tips will probably be enough for you to start digesting, try not to forget about everything else. To the outside world, The Dissertation, although sounding scary, is just that – a dissertation. But in actuality, you’re not only writing a Dissertation, but are also working for several different modules, juggling various essays, and trying to keep on top of revision for your upcoming exams – not to mention trying to have a social life. So, do yourself a favour, and try to manage your time – basically a reputation of point two. Make sure you don’t let The Dissertation take over, and it will try to on multiple occasions. Set aside some time each week to work at it, and if you’ve done the first thing right and actually picked something you enjoy working on, you won’t mind researching your Dissertation instead of something else. You just have to keep chipping away at it, and sooner or later it will be a week before your deadline and, if you’ve done as I’ve recommended, you can sit back and relax whilst sipping a martini whilst everyone arounds you panics.

Then I recommend dropping that martini because, final point to make, even though your Dissertation is over, that doesn’t always mark the end of your university career. If you’re like me, you’ll still have other essays to deal with and exams to think about. So go forth, conquer your fears of The Dissertation, and good luck my friends (you’re gonna need it).

And enjoy the unending hunt for jobs, those of you who aren’t in career-focused degrees. The fun just never ends.

amount-of-sleep-we-should-all-get.gif

perezhilton

Always telling stories

I have always loved telling stories. From telling anecdotes of terrible customers at work to writing out fantastical ideas that I always dream of doing something with one day to share them with the world. There’s just something so incredible of creating a world in your head, of thinking up characters and descriptions that exist only in your imagination. There’s something special about that infinite space, and then looking at either a blank notebook or a blank word document with the cursor blinking, full of possibilities. Seeing the physical evidence of someone’s creativity is always astounding, but with books it’s even more so as the only materials the writer used were a combination of 26 letters. It’s probably why I love reading fantasy, just to see how other writer’s minds work and the things that they can imagine and create, see where they’ve been inspired and how they, in turn, can inspire me.

I’ve known that I want to one day write books for a very, very long time. In past posts I’ve gone into detail about some of my ‘early’ work, which included a very short play which was essentially Scooby Doo with a retriever (there was a graveyard, a vampire, and a witch), along with two pieces of fiction, a duology if you will, that was inspired by my seven-year-old-self’s crush who ended up moving to another country, which is what the second book deals with. Such heartbreak at such a young age, but if I remember correctly the only reason I liked him was because he was a fast runner, which probably isn’t the best thing to start a relationship for.

dont-do-it.gif

itstartsatmidnight

So clearly I had a love for stories and imaginations as a child, but when thinking back I remember all the ways I loved stories. It seems child-me didn’t quite understand the very important difference between telling something as a story and telling a story as if it were a truth. AKA child-me lied about a lot of things, but didn’t think of them as lies, more as ‘stories’.

When I think back, a few of these little ‘stories’ come to mind, all that occurred in primary school up to the age of about nine or ten. There are minor ones, such as telling a girl that I had seen a unicorn or a friend that I had been taken from a tribe of magical warriors (though that one I blame on my brother, who I distinctly remember telling me that I was adopted in probably the most imaginative tale ever, which included our parents travelling to a tribe in the wilderness and doing some ritual in order to get me). But the one that spiralled entirely out of control, and which still makes me smile to this day, was the story that my cat had had kittens.

My cat, of course, hadn’t had kittens. Bundle was, in fact, neutered, and so would never have kittens ever, but little me (I’m pretty sure I was in Reception or Year One, so maybe five or six years old) really liked the idea of my cat having kittens. So much so, that I imagined how great it would be if Bundle had actually had kittens. All I can remember is telling a few of my friends and perhaps even my teacher, the ever-wonderful Mrs Hill – she was involved in another one of my story-related obsessions, in which I took home a lot of books from the school library, but didn’t want to give them back, and so soon collected a box-full of books, which my Mum discovered, but luckily Mrs Hill didn’t tell me off. Apparently stealing is not ok, but when it could demonstrate a child’s love of reading there isn’t much of a punishment.

giphy-8.gif

giphy

Back to the cat. So all I remember is telling a few people that my cat had had kittens, the dream of any five-maybe-six year old girl. After that I don’t remember much at all, apart from what I’ve since been told by my Mum and brother. Apparently the news of kittens spread through the primary school like wildfire, a primary school that my older brother still attended at this time, possibly in his final year there before secondary school. He found out about our cat supposedly having kittens when one of his friends asked if the kittens were for sale. Next thing I know, my Mum is telling me that it’s wrong to lie after people kept enquiring after our kittens. I’m pretty sure little-me was as confused as everyone else – I mean, after all, it had been a story, and was it really my fault that other people couldn’t recognise such excellent creativity and imagination?

It’s safe to say that the story-telling, or ‘lying’ as others called it, died down after that, and by the time I reached secondary school I understood the importance of clarifying to the mere mortals when I was telling a story.

My only regret? That I threw away the original manuscripts for those two books I wrote about my heartbreak over this boy. Man, would I love to be able to read them now. That would be some serious entertainment right there – though I seem to remember in the second one that he moved to Australia and was bitten by a black widow spider, because apparently little-me was a spiteful so-and-so.

 

Guide to University: Coming Home

Home has always been my ultimate happy place. Spending time with family always lifts my mood, whether it’s slamming my head against the table because my Dad has made another terrible (but admittedly funny) joke or playing hide and seek with the dog. It’s where my Mum cooks the best food and I seem to have far fewer worries and concerns, probably because I don’t have to worry about mundane ‘adult’ things like what I’m going to eat or whether I need to go to the shops or if I can stretch out my toothpaste for another day.

dorothy-gif

kayleya.wordpress

For now when I think of home, I think of the ocean and the pebbled beaches that the dog rolls on. I think of seagulls waking me up during the night and the Chinese supermarket that makes the best pad thai. Before me moved, home was the place of more cows than people and a large wood where I would always walk the dog, filled with memories of picnics with friends and climbing fallen trees after primary school. I find it strange that I don’t miss that place as much as I thought it would, and then I remember that it isn’t the physical place, but the people. It’s not the specific walls or floorboards that I miss, but the place where someone is always making cups of tea and where there is always a stash of biscuits. It’s not the rooms where I spent my childhood or the stains of memories on the carpet, but the hugs and warmth and laughter.

giphy-6.gif

giphy

And these reasons are why I find leaving home so difficult, even though I’ve done it countless times now. Having to leave my family at the train station, watching as the scenery changes from fields and houses to built up London blocks and cranes constantly building new things. I get back to my flat and flop onto the sofa, suddenly having to think again about buying some food and sorting out my things for the coming days. London is my home as well though, and it’s hard to always remember that when I’m coming back to it. But there is a familiarity with London, from the odd little shortcuts through the city to the riverside with an endless stream of tourists and selfie sticks. I start to see my friends and discover new haunts, or be reminded of old ones. University is in London, and as much stress as it causes me at times, it’s also where I get to learn about everything from Milton to weird mythology involving gods having liaisons with swans.

So, although I’m leaving one home, I’m coming back to another. And as much as I love them both, sometimes you need the act of leaving to remember why you love coming back.

Moving on to 2017 [Part 1]

2017 marks as a fresh start for a lot of people, and not just because it’s a new year. 2016 for most of us was an awful year, filled with bad memories, bad politics, and bad people. Deaths, terrorist attacks, and fear have made 2016 an awful year in almost every way, so it’s no surprise that people are jumping into 2017 with hope for some grand miracle. At first I was in full agreement, thinking that my 2016 has been particularly difficult not just because of Brexit and Trump, but also losing my Grandma last July. Mourning never really ends; it acts more like a wound, that slowly heals and can be reopened, but eventually scars over and fades over time, but still does not disappear.

But there was one thing that I’m sure she’d want me to remember – the reason why she called me ‘sunshine girl’ every time I saw her – and that’s to find the positivity and light that exists. And so instead of posting a blog post about my hopes for 2017 along with deciding if I succeeded all those goals and wishes I had for the past year, I’m going to talk about my favourite moments of 2016. (And I’m not just doing this because I’ve left my diary in London which is where I write down all my goals…)

a2e49867a2f4b8d8817d70a1e79ccc7d

Pinterest

First off, 2016 was the year in which I got my best results so far in university. It was the first time that I’d received results and had a response that wasn’t equivalent to a shrug. I think I was used to doing well in school, so doing really well of course made me extremely happy, but only for a very short period of time. University of course is a completely different experience, and everyone you study with is just as good as you, if not better. I had pretty average grades through first year and for the start of second year, so it wasn’t until I had my final exam results that I really saw an improvement. It finally felt like my hard work was rewarded, and it has continued to spur me on today – even as I sit here with unfinished essays and an unread Paradise Lost.

2016 was the year when I re-evaluated what I wanted to do in my life, and decided that the realm of journalism isn’t quite ready for me yet. It’s where I thought about what I loved (dogs, books, chocolate), what I could probably make into a job (dogs, books), and what I could actually live off (books). After a year and a half of being a bookseller, the world of publishing seemed like the perfect fit – and getting that summer internship only heightened my excitement.

On that note, 2016 was the year in which I was promoted at my part-time job as a bookseller. It’s become my favourite job of all time, surrounded by books and brilliant people every weekend who have become friends. It’s where I’ve made some of my closest friends, where I’ve discovered new books and authors I would normally not choose, and where I’ve seriously made use of my discount.

And 2016 was the year I went to New York with one of my best friends and saw a musical that I also first heard in 2016, which changed my life (in small, not insignificant ways). Travelling is something that I love and wish I could do more of, but constraints like money (and time off university that isn’t filled with work) hold me back. Being able to go to a place like New York was a marvel in itself, filled with awe and wonder at every turn. And to see the musical Hamilton? Just incredible. The music, the messages, and the sheer majesty of the performance made it the best musical I’ve ever seen, and I salute Lin Manuel Miranda for such an incredible piece of art.

tumblr_nxeexwPXN61r07yeco1_500.gif

tumblr

It’s important to find the light in the darkness, and not look back (in anger) with regret. 2016 may have been a year of bad things and terrible experiences, but there were also good things and brilliant moments that shouldn’t be swept aside with the rest of the rubbish. No, 2016 was not the best year, but it also wasn’t an insignificant, unsalvageable one.

NaNoWriMo 2016

Last year I did something crazy, and that was signing up to NaNoWriMo saying that I was going to write a whole novel in a month. For those new to the concept, National Novel Writing Month has been running for several years now, pushed on by its loyal and growing community of crazy wannabe writers who attempt this ridiculous, but wonderful, challenge. If you’re interested in my experience, check out my blog post on it.

What I loved about NaNo was the encouragement to just sit down and make time to write every single day. The focus was not on writing a masterpiece, it was on writing those one thousand, six hundred and something words a day. It wasn’t about going back over what you’d written previously and editing it until it was somewhat satisfactory. It was about reaching that target, whether you had planned out a story from start to end or you were just making it up as you went along (I was the latter half). Instead of spending ages staring at one sentence because it didn’t feel quite right, or looking up synonyms for words, or scrolling through baby name websites for that perfect name (all of which I frequently do), I simply sat down and wrote. Who cares if my sentence uses the same word twice or the language is a bit simplistic or if I call my main character John Smith? Creating a word of genius wasn’t the point of NaNo, and I loved that more than anything. It takes the pressure off of you, and brings you back to the core reason for doing this in the first place – the sheer love of writing and storytelling.

spn-cas-let-me-tell-you-my-story

ent.life

As soon as November ended last year, I said I couldn’t wait until next year. That feeling hasn’t changed – I am desperate to get back to that mindset of just writing whenever I can, and making the time to do it. Yet last year I made the joke that, despite having several essays, I was going to take on the challenge. It seems that this year, my final year of university, the deadlines I have for the next month, let alone the next year, are too many to manage alongside NaNo.

It is so with a very heavy heart, I’m announcing that I will not be participating in NaNo 2017. Writing 50,000 words for fun is just not going to be possible alongside dissertation reading/planning/writing, midterm assignments, reading for modules – you get the idea. Although it would be very easy for everyone to come up with an excuse for why they don’t have the time to write a novel in a month (I’d be concerned if you thought you had lots of time to get that done with no issues), for me it’s the added stress and pressure from doing well in my final year of university. I know that if I decide to take on NaNo, it will become something that it isn’t supposed to be – a source of stress, anxiety, and just plain not fun. And I don’t want writing to become that. I need writing as my outlet (Exhibit A: what you’re reading now. Exhibit B: the fact I have two blogs. TWO. As if managing one wasn’t enough).

TravisWallCrazy.gif

However, it isn’t all bad news. Instead of completely abandoning all hope of NaNo, I’ve decided to revisit what I wrote last year – which I still quite like, and have since had many ideas on how to extend and improve it, including a follow up novel – I’m ambitious (read: hopeful). Instead of writing a completely new novel, I’m going to go back to last year’s attempt and try to rework it. This includes changing the voice of the book, which was originally written in first person and, because I’ve had an idea, I’m going to change it to third person. I’m also going to change certain characters, certain scenes that I rushed through to reach the word count, and basically do everything that NaNo doesn’t. I’m going to edit, polish, tidy up all those terrible sentences, and hopefully create something I’m truly proud of.

NaNo 2016 forced me into writing a novel idea that I loved within a month. This year, I’m going to take that novel and make it shine. Or, at least, I’m going to try. Uni might be a hell of a lot more work this year, but it isn’t going to stop me from writing. Or, well, editing, I suppose.

Internship at Legend Press

In the past year or so, I’ve come to the realisation that the only kind of journalism I’m interested in are book and music reviews – which you can’t really make a career out of straight away and live off. They’re both competitive, and I probably wouldn’t be able to focus solely on them until much much later on. So I had a bit of a life evaluation, or more like a think about what I want to do with my life career wise, and of course I kept coming back to the ultimate dream of being an author. I love books, so it made sense that I should go into a career about books – and this is where publishing comes in.

I have very little knowledge about the publishing industry, especially as all of my experience is in the journalism sector. So began the panic earlier this year of writing to as many publishers as possible practically begging them to let me follow them around for a couple weeks (meaning work shadowing, not stalking). I made a long post previously about putting yourself out there, and this is basically what I was thinking about whilst writing it. After a few replies saying not possible, and one panicked 15 minute conversation where I was offered a placement on a week that I was away in France, I finally had an offer I could accept – and that’s where I’ve been for the past two weeks.

tumblr.com

I was mainly in editorial in a very small publishing house – there were only six or seven people in the office every day, and on my last day there were just three of them due to holidays – so I was able to have an insight into several different areas. I was reading through manuscripts, proof reading, compiling many different spreadsheets for Sales, and several other jobs. I’m almost tempted to write ‘completed’ on my reading challenge for this year with the amount of books I had to skim through over the past two weeks. In my first week, I read at least two manuscripts a day, but as it was mainly skim reading just to get a gist of the plot and writing style, that probably doesn’t count.

There were classic, stereotypical intern moments, such as being sent out on an errand, sorting out the bookcases in the office, and having lunch at itsu most days. There were also jobs I didn’t think I’d be given, such as going through competition entries and assessing writing.

the-toast.net

At this current moment in time, I’m sitting in a towel having just had a shower and have about forty minutes before I have to head off to work (no rest for the wicked), and am drawing a serious mind blank on what else to say about these two weeks. So I’ll end with this: I’m so happy I managed to secure the internship, and although it was unpaid it was fantastic experience that I will very proudly add to my CV. I’ve learned so much about the industry, met some fantastic people, and definitely have more of an idea of what I want to go into.

Guide to University/Life: Put yourself out there

I wasn’t sure whether to make this a general post or Guide To University, but as the inspiration came from experiences at University, I decided to go with the latter.

It’s bloody difficult getting your life together, as I’m sure everyone can relate to. From getting into good schools, to doing well in exams, deciding if university is for you, picking your career path, making steps towards said path – I mean, come on, that’s not even including your social life, your housing, bills, taxes, food, relationships, and everything else on top. Instead of trying to tackle all of these today though, for now I’m going to focus primarily on the career aspect.

theodysseyonline

I’ve been told all through my life – by parents, friends, adults that actually have their lives together – that if you want something, you have to work for it. That you can’t just sit on your arse with your hands open, waiting for something to fall into them. That it’s not all down to luck and chance, that you actually have to work for it. It’s about perseverance, determination, and a bit of guts on top of that.

In the career paths I’ve looked into (journalism, writing, and publishing), networking is a large part of them. That means that whenever I’m in a setting where a contact could help me greatly in the future, I have to suck it up, go up to them, and get their details. I was crap to start off with, when I was on the Young Journalist Academy and seeing all these amazing people walk through the door and thinking ‘damn, wish I got their email’. Honestly, you have to just put yourself out there and shove some of those nerves, and maybe a little dignity, aside. You can’t be insecure, you just have to toughen up and walk on and, if they don’t give you that email, they don’t give it to you. You won’t get it without trying, and that’s the mantra I try to keep on repeat in my mind.

fun107

Next step? Actually email them. I’ve only just started to make sure that I actually do that as soon as I can, rather than wait until a lot later when I think ‘oh, maybe so-and-so could help me out with this problem’. I suppose I’ve been lucky enough to have had the opportunities that I’ve had, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t worked for them. I only received work experience at The Sun by talking to someone at an event and asking for their card so I could email, which is when they asked if I’d be interested in experience. I’m currently on an internship for publishing now, which I managed to get after sending out email after email to as many publishing houses as I could asking for any experience in the industry they could offer.

What I haven’t manged to do well yet, and I imagine won’t be able to deal with perfectly for a while, is rejection. I am bloody terrible with rejection, feeling as if it’s a personal attack and agonising over wording in emails, whereas they were probably written within minutes. Finding the strength to not let yourself be upset when you’re not picked is so hard, but I’ve found the real challenge is picking up the pieces and getting on with it.

theodysseyonline

Take a couple months ago for example, where I had an offer for an internship for two weeks that I already had set plans. I replied, angry at myself, only to find out I could shift my plans. Another email hurriedly sent, only to find out that they’d found someone else. (This all happened in about 15/20 minutes) Then comes the anger, the tears, the irritation, the cursing, and copious amounts of chocolate and tea.

So it’s safe to say that when you do put yourself out there, you’re also very likely to be rejected a few (a lot) of times. But when you finally get that ‘yes’? All worth it. 100%. (Well, maybe not the many calories you’ve put on, but you can deal with that later)