shanaqui: Duo from Gundam Wing. Text: ta-da! ((Duo) Tada)
[personal profile] shanaqui posting in [community profile] academia
Hi! I'm an English Lit undergrad going into my third year next semester, and right now I'm trying to pick my modules for next year. The dissertation module is completely optional. Can anyone give me some pros and cons on whether or not to do a dissertation? I will be tracking down someone to give me advice within my university, but I'd welcome any thoughts now to get a better range of ideas.

I'm worried about doing a dissertation largely because I am infinitely better at exams than I am at long pieces of work. It's very much presented as an opportunity, not a requirement, and I'm worried I'll mess up my chances of a first if I do it because this is exactly what I am not good at. So far I've focused on short essays, creative writing and languages. My firsts have been in Old English and Middle English exams, based mostly on translation, and a poetry exam. I've got a 2:1 in all essay-assessed modules.

*tiny, overwhelmed, terrified voice* Help?

Date: 2010-04-12 12:47 pm (UTC)
doctor_denmark: Taylor Swift in a 1940s style outfit (Default)
From: [personal profile] doctor_denmark
Hi. First of all, congratulations. All those firsts and 2:1s are fantastic.

The thing I found about doing my dissertation was that it was the highest mark I ever got on a piece of written work. I always did better in exams too, but I found that with the extra length to really explore an issues, and the time and support I got while writing it, I did much better than I ever thought I could. It's different for everyone, of course, but that's what I found.

I really would get some advice from people in your university though; is there an EnglishSoc with members who can give you advice from a student perspective? I found that really helped me.

Date: 2010-04-12 03:44 pm (UTC)
holyschist: Image of a medieval crocodile from Herodotus, eating a person, with the caption "om nom nom" (Default)
From: [personal profile] holyschist
I don't know that much about either English or the UK university model, but my first question would be "What are your future plans?"


  • Are you planning on graduate work?

  • Assuming you do well, would a dissertation help you with your goals or not make a difference?

  • If you do poorly on a dissertation, will it be a hindrance to your goals or not make a difference?

  • If it's not relevant to your goals, is there anything about the experience that appeals to you, even if you end up not doing as well as you hope?



My general feeling is that if you're planning on graduate work and you feel you can do reasonably well (well enough that it wouldn't harm your applicatiosn), it would be a good "dry run" for a graduate dissertation. Otherwise, it really depends.

Date: 2010-04-12 11:59 pm (UTC)
holyschist: Image of a medieval crocodile from Herodotus, eating a person, with the caption "om nom nom" (Default)
From: [personal profile] holyschist
Hope that helps!

Date: 2010-04-12 05:11 pm (UTC)
ajnabieh: The text "My Marxist feminist dialective brings all the boys to the yard."   (bridge)
From: [personal profile] ajnabieh
Also an American educated in the US, and not in English/literature. But I'd second [personal profile] holyschist's point: if you're thinking about grad school, you probably should do it, both because it's good practice, and because if you hate writing an undergrad thesis, you don't want to do a PhD. (A taught Masters or MPhil, maybe, but the higher up the academic food chain you do, the more it's about the writing.)

Beyond that, it's up to you. I loved my senior essay a lot; it was a chance to spend a full year really sunk in a problem, to make a contribution to the scholarly literature, and to advocate for positions within my field that matter to me. It was also the moment when I realized I could be a scholar for a living. That's an empowering moment. But the doing and writing of research is really not for everyone. It doesn't make you unsmart not to like it--just someone who has different goals and strengths.

(There's also the question of what a first is good for--what are the benefits? I don't know how relevant they are on the UK job market; in the US, your grades don't matter most of the time, though there's a slight boost for some objective markers like summa or magna cum laude or Phi Beta Kappa, though they're still not as big as the boost you get from going to an elite school. If getting a first and not a 2:1 will make a big difference for your post-BA plans, then take it into account--but if you think you have the chance to really develop an interesting project and an interesting idea, not to mention yourself as a scholar, but might end up with a 2:1 because of it, and the costs are low...the self-exploration might be its own benefit. This is all very, very YMMV stuff, though.)

Date: 2010-04-13 12:00 am (UTC)
holyschist: Image of a medieval crocodile from Herodotus, eating a person, with the caption "om nom nom" (Default)
From: [personal profile] holyschist
because if you hate writing an undergrad thesis, you don't want to do a PhD

Oh, haha, this too. My undergrad project (it got rejected as a thesis) was awful, but my Master's thesis has been a zillion times more frustrating...and writing is one of my stronger academic skills.

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