Student Voice

Exploring Literature in English: Student Perspectives on the Dissertation Process and Beyond

Dissertation literature in English

By Student Voice

Introduction

In the final year of a literature in English degree, students face a key academic challenge: the dissertation. This isn't just another essay or an extended project; it's a journey through original research, argument development, and a quest for new insights into literature. For many, it encapsulates the essence of their university experience, combining years of learning, critical thinking, and personal growth into one comprehensive work. The dissertation process, often feared and revered, is a rite of passage that tests students' resilience, intellectual curiosity, and dedication. Feedback from student surveys has underscored the importance of support and guidance throughout this process, highlighting the critical role of supervisors, secondary markers, and institutional resources. By demystifying the dissertation journey, we aim to engage students and staff in a dialogue that not only navigates the challenges but also celebrates the triumphs of literature exploration and scholarly achievement.

Examinations and Stress

Examinations looms large over the heads of literature students, causing stress that is often amplified during the dissertation phase. Especially during the final year, when students are juggling their dissertation alongside, the pressure can feel insurmountable. The dissertation demands large amounts of time, deep concentration, and unwavering commitment. Balancing this with preparation for final exams, which might include comprehensive 6-hour papers or critical practice assessments, can strain even the most diligent students. During holiday periods, when students might prefer to recharge, the reality is often one of intensified study sessions, further fuelling stress levels. Institutions teaching literature in English must recognise the double burden on their students and strive to provide holistic support. From offering detailed planning guides to fostering open dialogues about mental well-being, it's crucial that support mechanisms are in place. Creating a culture where it's okay to speak out about stress and seek help can make all the difference.

Dissertation Process

The dissertation process begins with the task of topic selection - a step that not only sets the direction of the research but also sparks the initial flame of inquiry. Here, the expertise and guidance of supervisors become invaluable. They don't merely act as advisors but as intellectual collaborators, guiding students through the process of academic rigour and creativity. The role of the secondary marker, often overlooked, is equally significant. Providing an additional layer of feedback, they ensure that the research's scope, depth, and scholarly contribution are robust and well-rounded. The dissertation journey, fraught with challenges, is also a testament to the resilience and dedication of students. It demands not only intellectual fortitude but also an admirable level of time management and self-discipline. Institutions play a crucial part in this process by offering workshops, resources, and an understanding atmosphere that nurtures scholarly exploration.

Course Structure and Content

The structure and content of courses lay the groundwork for success in dissertation projects. Central to this experience is the thoughtful selection of modules that complement one's academic curiosity and dissertation goals. Early engagement with a broad range of literary texts and theories, from pre-honours years, shapes critical thinking and analytical skills fundamental for dissertation research. Institutions shine when they adapt to challenges, as seen during the COVID-19 pandemic, by offering flexible learning options and maintaining the quality of teaching. The commitment to a diverse and inclusive curriculum, addressing staffing and communication efficiently, fosters a conducive learning environment. This section of the academic journey, with its challenges and triumphs, underscores the importance of a supportive, adaptable, and intellectually stimulating academic environment.

Student Support and Wellbeing

The dissertation journey, though academically enriching, can be a source of significant stress for students studying English literature. Recognising the immense pressure this final project places on students, institutions must place a strong emphasis on student support and wellbeing. Mental health resources, alongside ample study spaces, become crucial in mitigating the effects of stress. The disruption caused by building work or lack of quiet, dedicated spaces can exacerbate anxiety, making the availability of quiet environments for study a necessity. Furthermore, the role of student voice in shaping the support services cannot be overstated. By listening to and acting on feedback, universities can tailor their wellbeing initiatives to better meet the needs of their students. Initiatives such as peer support groups or workshops on managing dissertation stress not only aid in the immediate wellbeing of students but also inculcate a culture of openness and mutual support. Celebrating milestones, including graduation, plays a vital role in recognising the hard work and achievements of students, thereby boosting morale.

Learning Experience and Resources

For literature in English students, the quality of the learning experience hinges on the accessibility of library resources, including digital databases, literary journals, and e-books. As students start on this critical phase of their academic career, the role of online learning platforms comes into sharp focus. These platforms offer valuable tools for research, from online seminars to virtual workshops focused on honing research skills and writing techniques. The engagement with tutors and the feedback they provide forms the backbone of the learning experience during the dissertation process. Prompt, constructive feedback can illuminate the path forward, helping students refine their arguments and enhance their academic writing. Marking practices also play an important role, with clear criteria and benchmarks guiding students in meeting and exceeding academic standards. For staff and institutions, ensuring that students have seamless access to both physical and digital resources is fundamental. Equally important is fostering an environment where students feel supported and motivated.

Industrial Action

Strikes and other forms of action can lead to reduced contact time with tutors, who are instrumental in guiding dissertation progress. This lack of availability can delay feedback on chapters or proposals, leaving students feeling uncertain about their direction and progress. Moreover, it can hinder access to crucial resources typically facilitated by staff, such as special library collections or research materials. Institutions and staff can mitigate these effects by planning ahead, such as providing additional digital resources or organising peer support networks. Clear communication about the nature and expected duration of industrial actions helps manage student expectations and reduces anxiety. Creating a contingency plan for dissertation support during these periods is important, ensuring that students continue to receive guidance and feedback, even if in an altered form. Ultimately, while industrial action presents challenges, with thoughtful preparation and open dialogue, the impact on dissertation work can be minimised, keeping students on track towards completing their significant academic milestones.

Personal Tutoring and Guidance

In the dissertation journey, personal tutoring plays an important role, especially for students looking into the rich texts of English literature. Personal tutors, with their wealth of knowledge and insight, offer invaluable guidance that can shape the dissertation into a piece of rigorous academic work. They are not just mentors; they are an important support network, providing not only academic but also emotional support to navigate the complexities of dissertation writing. Simple yet impactful advice on structuring arguments, refining research questions, and conducting effective text analysis can make a world of difference. One-on-one sessions with a personal tutor offer a platform for detailed discussion, where students can explore their ideas freely and receive tailored feedback. This individualised attention ensures that students are not lost in the vast sea of research and deadlines but are confidently steering towards their academic goals. For staff and institutions, fostering a strong culture of personal tutoring is essential. It's about creating a supportive academic community where students feel valued and understood.

Conclusion

From the initial thrill of selecting a topic to the final stages of editing and polishing, the dissertation process encapsulates a pivotal phase in the academic and personal growth of students. Central to this process is a culture that champions mental wellbeing and inclusivity, students find themselves not merely navigating their dissertations but thriving within them. Moreover, the shift towards recognising and addressing the diverse needs of students, from stress management to gender representation in literature, underscores a dynamic academic environment that is ever-evolving in response to student voices. For staff and institutions, the mission is clear: to continue fostering an environment that not only supports but elevates the academic and personal ventures of students, guiding them to realise their full potential as scholars and individuals.

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