How not to lose track (and spirit) during the dissertation process
Writing a paper is never easy and the whole thing might become more complicated if the paper concerned is the dissertation. It can take away patience, time, energy, and sometimes even your social life. Short or not, the dissertation process can be tough. But hey, it’s just a period!
Who am I to say this? My name is Ilaria, 23 years old, life-enthusiastic, and, most importantly, a fresh graduate student in the Master course Human Rights and Multi-Level Governance. After a bachelor’s degree in Interpreting and translation with a focus on international and diplomatic organizations, I decided to further deepen my interest in human needs and rights. My background in languages, my curiosity, and my passion for exploring new cultures have driven me not only to develop a thesis in the cultural field but also to apply for an internship in cultural diplomacy. I believe that knowing and respecting cultures, and with this, I mean people and their customs and traditions, is the key to a peaceful and tolerant future.
With this blog post, I am offering you a few points that might help you not to feel overwhelmed and live both in health and peace during the whole dissertation process: from page 1 of the dissertation, to the joyful moment of the proclamation.
No matter how, but you need to start. This is a very difficult part, I know. But once you have started, then it’s easier. The topic or the research question is not clear yet? Fine, super fine. You can change it at a later stage, but clear your mind and find the strength to get started. It can be after a spritz, a workout, or a nap.
Yes yes, I know. Probably your parents and professors keep repeating this verb all the time and you feel done with it. But believe it or not, organization can save human lives and can be crucial in finding a 1-hour spot to enjoy some recharging time with friends. Here come some practical tips: first, open a file or hold a notebook and write down a list of topics that you would like to write about; second, set short term goals, even the simplest ones, such as contact the supervisor, read how to do the layout, drink water - remember to always stay hydrated -, look up some information, and so on. They both helped me a lot to stay on track.
Choose wisely your supervisor
Choose accurately and sufficiently far in advance the professor you want to be your supervisor. If you get along with him/her, then it’s easier. Do write e-mails and talk to him/her. Personally, every two weeks I wrote an email reporting the stage I was at. Do not be afraid of asking for clarifications or useful readings. Of course, always be respectful.
Ask for help
Having ups and downs is okay, don’t worry. Are you having a standoff? Try to understand the reason and talk about it with someone. You may feel alone standing in front of the laptop for several hours, but you are not. Speak with your friends, colleagues, parents, even your dog! Speaking out loud and giving voice to your thoughts can really help you. Don’t feel ashamed or inferior, swear it!
You have written the first page? Congratulations, you made it. Every time you reach an achievement - even a very small one - you have to celebrate and take the opportunity to regenerate. Again, if you organize your work well, then you can enjoy some free time and mature the mood to pass on to the next step. It is not a problem if then that page will be deleted or changed, it’s normal!
Trust the process
You don’t feel like writing today? Fine, but don’t stop. Do something else useful, such as look up information or inspirations on the web, read a book and taking notes, listen to interviews. Everything can help you writing and finding fresh ideas. Remember to have a file where you have all links and information written according to the chapters you have in mind. This can enormously help you not to lose information around. Since the process is quite long, back up. Every time you do something, save it! You don’t want to start again, do you?
Don’t compare yourself to others. Everyone is different and unique. You are the one to believe in what you are writing. Find a topic that YOU are really interested in, not one that you think might be suitable and interesting for the world. You value and so your ideas.
The dissertation is not your life
Lastly, repeat “the dissertation is not my life”, “the dissertation is not my life”, “the dissertation is not my life”. Do not isolate yourself and do not give up on your personal life: the more your spirit is motivated, the more you have the right energy to go on.
After all these tips, I am now sharing with you a bit of my personal experience. In August 2020, I started thinking about the research question; as soon as I had some ideas I contacted the professor I wanted to be my supervisor. From September to December 2020, I wrote down some thoughts, but I had no time due to internship and exams and I left all the thesis things aside. After the exam session, I came back to what I wrote and I devoted myself to the writing process. But, hey, I didn’t like anymore what I had previously written and the topic was too broad, so I had to change it and find a new one: the role of art in promoting a culture of human rights. In February 2021, my dissertation journey actually started and it lasted until the end of May.
Some of the obstacles I encountered were the layout and the references. However, what really put me in difficulty had been not being able to thoroughly speak with my supervisor when I needed to. Indeed, we mostly kept in touch via email and had meetings via Zoom and, despite his responsiveness, the time available was always limited. As a result, sometimes I did not manage to debate as I wanted and other times I did not fully understand what my supervisor was suggesting to me. All things considered, I believe these were challenges and they were all normal. All in all, I had a very positive experience: the supervisor had been most of the time very helpful and had supported me through the process (and even after) and I was confident about the topic.
On the day of the defence, June 22, 2021, I was really nervous. The defence was online and this didn’t help me: I was terrified of having connection and voice issues - ps: use earphones! - and of being unclear. The defence normally lasts 15/20 minutes, but you have 8/10 minutes to present the work. The commission is composed of 5 professors, including the supervisor. Once you conclude the presentation, the commission asks you 1/2 questions. The ppt is not mandatory.
To begin with, the supervisor introduces your research to the commission but you do not listen to it - I was waiting for my turn in a Zoom breakout room. When he/she gives you the floor, be clear and direct. Personally, at first, I recalled the title of the dissertation, second, I explained the structure of the speech, and the methodology of the dissertation, and then, I addressed some main points. Everything went very smoothly and in a moment I was graduate and free.
A very final comment: you can do it and you will do it, for sure. Good luck everybody!
Written by Ilaria Ragni
Edited by Giulia Rosina
Photo courtesy of Ilaria Ragni
Ilaria Ragni is a neo graduate student from Human Rights and Multilevel Governance, SET collaborator and active UNIPD student. Her Instagram bio reports “human rights supporter, positiveness ambassador and healthy lover” and this is actually her. Ilaria’ s dissertation will soon be published on the thesis corner of Unipd, but she is willing to share it by mail. Ask her and follow her story on LinkedIn @Ilaria Ragni, Instagram @Ilarrja_ and Facebook @Ilaria Ragni.
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