The British Dissertation

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One-year Master's students in Britain are all too familiar with the situation described so brilliantly by my good friend and fellow Master's student:


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Perhaps my friend was referring to the lack of sun and warmth that characterizes this time of the year in England yet is unthinkable for the season in his native Brazil. But perhaps he was referring to the lack of summer that comes from having to write a thesis during vacation. You have all heard that British people are obsessed with time, and one-year Master's programs in England are no exception. Forget about that September-May nonsense; here they last exactly one year. While we attend classes for the first nine months, the last three months after final examinations are destined to the dissertation writing process.

The Difference with British Dissertations

As I struggle to finish my own dissertation amidst all of London's temptations, there are a few things I wish I had really internalized before I embarked on the task. First, academic tutors in the U.K. will not grab your hand and guide you through the process. Arguably the most important element of my previous thesis experience in the United States were the weekly meetings with my adviser, who read every draft I produced and provided extensive feedback. In contrast, U.K. advisers offer only preliminary advice and rarely review any drafts. (At LSE, advisers are actually prohibited from reading manuscripts and providing feedback on unfinished writing.)

U.K. Master's dissertations, moreover, tend to be relatively short compositions of about 6,000-10,000 words, so one of the main challenges is to write concisely, imitating the structure of an academic article. Finally, the nature of a U.K. dissertation pushes one to fight against our deepest entertainment instincts. Summer months in England are packed with fun, student-friendly events, which will make it difficult to focus and remain locked inside your room or the library.

My Top Tips

In order to alleviate these pressures and keep myself sane throughout the process, I have come up with a list of strategies that have proven to be effective: 1) create a realistic schedule AND follow it; 2) leave enough time for more than one round of proofreading and editing; 3) conduct intensive research first in order to avoid time-consuming trips to the library in the middle of the writing stage; 4) write each chapter as if they were an independent essay; they will be more coherent this way; and 5) don't forget to have fun! After all, this is also my one year in Europe, the best continent to enjoy an unforgettable university experience.


Maria is a Harvard graduate and a guest blogger for Foreign Students. She posts regular updates of her experiences as a postgraduate student at LSE in London. Click here to see her older posts.


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