TGSS Alumni Blog

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Doing a dissertation – an alumnus perspective

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I have excelled at a number of things in my twenty something life. And usually when am asked what drives me, am quick to recount how passionate I am about what I do. In my silent moments though, when I reflect back, I effortlessly remember lots of tasks I excelled at, with almost zero passion. I hated lots of subjects in secondary school, but for fear of displeasing my ever-smiling literature, or geography or history teachers, I equally excelled at such subjects. For fear of displeasing my parents, I stayed in school, kept out of trouble, said no to dating (almost), obeyed rules….and the list goes on. So in all my less than passionate situations, fear of failure perfectly came into the picture. My dissertation experience wasn’t different from those fear-of-failure encounters.

I was told to find a topic I would be passionate about for my research. I was passionate about a lot of things. But the moment deadlines came into the picture, meetings with supervisor, travelling back and forth chasing and rescheduling meetings with interviewees, doing literature review in a certain way, all the passion was sucked out. I had to wear my not-so-favourable fear-of-failure hat, to get through the four or so months of my dissertation.

The topics I was passionate about, were either overly researched, so they wouldn’t fetch good marks, or under researched so there wasn’t much information for my literature review. There were theories too, of supervisors who award marks generously, and those who give good passes, with no merits, no distinctions. With so much procrastination, I eventually found a topic, that led me to the supervisor I was aiming for.

I learnt new terms: philosophical stances, epistemology, ontology, positivism, realism, constructionism, dominant discourses….. the list is endless. I was meeting most of these terms for the first time but had to be an expert at using them within just a month, or else my literature review wouldn’t be strong enough to propel me to a distinction. There were flashes of confusion, frustration and anguish especially when my supervisor sent me back a couple of times to redo my literature review, clearly state the research paradigms and my philosophical position, my research strategy, my research methodologies…. All terms sounded nice to pronounce, but what they actually meant, baffled me for a big part of my dissertation undertaking.  Meanwhile, it was getting warmer in the North West and the urge to go bask in the sun, tell stories, take a few beers was getting stronger with every passing day. So staying focused was starting to come at a cost.

I had to find people to interview, give them incentives, schedule interviews, carry out and record the actual interviews for over an hour with each interviewee and report back to my supervisor. That seemed more interesting than the next step: transcribing recordings into volumes of typed work. This was the point when I wished I hadn’t registered for a master’s degree. It was excruciatingly boring! The downside of procrastinating at this point is that you lose time: valuable time that you may never regain. The sooner you get this done, the better. If you’re doing secondary research, then you have a million reasons to be thankful because you will never know the pain of transcribing audio into written work.

After this point, it gets easier. Putting the findings together, isn’t as cumbersome as the first steps when you’re just figuring out you aims, objectives, literature review and the like. At this point you’re nearing the finish line. With a good grasp on you literature review, this gets easier and simpler. The reflections and references chapters too are easier since at that point you are aiming at the end point.

No step was simple for me. At no point can I say I was passionate, except the time when I was handing in the completed version and boarding the plane back home. So whatever motivation you find to keep you going, just get on with the dissertation, and get done. No matter your pace, time will continue ticking away. The sooner you get it done, the earlier you get your life back, because writing a dissertation isn’t  as fascinating as the other modules, but a necessary part of your undertaking. It can pull your grades up, or damp them.

About the author

Michael Tibagendeka is a TGSS alumnus from Uganda. He had his MBA from the University of Central Lanchashire (UCLAN). Michael is currently the brand manager for Mukwano Group of Industirs in Uganda. He also has a start-up business; Sparkle onlinemarket.

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