A Dissertation Survival Guide

Spring term is here and many are about to properly start their dissertations. As I’m working on my graduate film project this term, I wrote my dissertation last term and handed it in on the last day of November, so I thought I’d share some of my own tips of surviving it.

A quick reminder before is that
1. Everyone has their own way of researching and writing, these are just my tips that worked really well for me.
2. My dissertation was for a bachelor of arts (i Sverige motsvarar det en fil.kand) and the structure of your dissertation may differ depending on what kind of degree you’re doing, your university and the country you’re studying in.

Start early

It’s quite self-evident and most people don’t stick to it (I barely did), but it’s so much worth it. It’s already January now and if your deadline is by around April/May/June, this tip is a bit shit, but if you’re writing it during the Autumn term or next Spring term, start a bit during the summer/winter break. At least get a broad view of what you’re going to write about and if you’re analysing books, film or similar – have a list of which books/films you need to support your argument(s). As I started as early as April 2017 with mine, I had my films (the two film adaptations of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and an idea of what I wanted to write about (comparing the depiction of Lisbeth Salander) by mid-June.

The question

The more narrow and obscure your dissertation is, the more your marker(s) will love it. I decided to write about men’s violence against women in film, I narrowed it down to two films adapted from the same book and focused on only three scenes, whereas the first scene was paid quite a little attention to in comparison to the other two.

The other important thing is to (obviously) pick something that you’re interested in, or at least enough to write 10 000 words on. I hadn’t planned at all to write about what I wrote about – all I knew was that I wanted to write about women in Scandinavian film – nor had I read the books or seen the films before. But after a talk with my personal advisor about it back in March 2017, I decided that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was the best option as it wasn’t too close to my heart (so by picking the film apart, I wouldn’t risk hating something I once loved) but it was close enough to make myself excited about the topic (set in Stockholm where I’m from and it raised questions about men, violence and feminism).

It’s okay to change your question during the writing process; I actually changed it just a few days before hand-in to make it narrower and to make the conclusion (hopefully) answer the question.

Decide on when to work on it

A bachelor degree’s dissertation is worth 30 UK credits which is equivalent to 15 ECTS (the system the rest of Europe use) which means it’s half a term worth of full-time studies. Depending on your degree, university and country, some do work on it full-time for half a term and some work on it during the whole term alongside other courses. This means (unless you’re my friend Jake who wrote his in about a week) you need to spend a lot of time on it and to structure your time because you’re going to have other work alongside and have time to have fun sometimes.

With a deadline of 30th of November, I think I properly started doing research around mid-October (I had previously written 2000 words but most of it got cut in the end) and from the beginning of November, I sat almost non-stop with it with the exception for two weeks when I was doing a directing project. Because I’m the worst morning person ever, unlike my friend and housemate Flora who is up and at the library at 08:30 every weekday morning, I usually got to the library between 10-12:00 and sat there until about 20-22:00 if I didn’t have class. For me, this worked the best as I like to sleep in a bit and I don’t mind too much coming home later. No matter what routine you choose, the important thing is to stick to it.

Write your introduction first

Every university professor will say the opposite; they always tell you to write it second-last, just before your conclusion. I found it easier to write it first as I could always go back to it and make sure that I was actually writing about what I had described in the introduction. It did change over time, including my question and hypothesis, but that’s okay. What I mean is that it was good to have something to lean back on in times of doubt. In your introduction, you also write why you write your dissertation – what new thoughts will it bring to your field? – which worked as a goal for me.

Research will come and go

My research folder contains 74 articles and that’s excluding websites and the physical books and the films I used. In the end, I ended up with about 55 references excluding films. You will read several articles and take notes for them but then to discover that you don’t need them at all, and while it feels like wasted time, it still helped you with knowledge about the topic and maybe you’ll find, in the very end, that something may have been useful. Better to read too much than too little. The same goes with writing – I probably wrote 15 000 words in total and ended up with just little under 9 500.

Write, write and write

Once you’ve done enough research that will at least generate a few thousand words; write, write and write. Try to not edit too much as you write, you’ll feel that you’re not getting anywhere and that word count never goes up. It’s just better to try and get it all out and then edit. As it’s quite a long piece, I wrote it chapter per chapter and edited after I’d written each chapter. If your chapters themselves aren’t coherent, it will be a lot harder to edit the full piece.

Your dissertation is only as strong as your conclusion

You’ve just written thousands of words, it’s only the conclusion left and I hope you’ve given yourself lots of time to write it. For me, the conclusion was the hardest to write as that’s basically the piece that will make it or break it. Spend a lot of time on writing the shortest section of your dissertation – my conclusion was about 650 words and for 10 000 words piece and I personally don’t think you should spend more than like 800 words on it. The conclusion should briefly summarise your research, findings and answer (or question) your research question and to raise any other potential questions you’ve found.

Final checks

Never. Edit. Your. Dissertation. By. Yourself. Always ask someone else (preferably several people) to read it as well. You will have missed things, typos, referencing and things that are clear to you who have: 1. Read it several times 2. Have knowledge about the topic, won’t necessarily be clear to someone else. If your friend doesn’t understand something, it’s likely that your marker won’t either.

Make sure that your references in-text/footnotes and bibliography are on point. Referencing often stands for around 10% of your mark and it makes the difference between two grades. Check your department’s/university’s style guide (which referencing system you should use) and when in doubt – ask someone else. I had the luck of getting the very last appointment with a librarian who helped me check my bibliography, which especially helped as I had several legislations mentioned that I didn’t know how to reference to.

Word (and probably other writing programmes) have an automated way to make a table of contents – use it. It will be a pain to manually do it and with this; you only need to make sure you spell your headings correctly and then Word will sort it out for you in the table of contents.

And finally; come up with a great title. It can be short or extremely long – many of my friends had quite long titles, but as long as it sounds interesting and relates to your question, it will be a good title. I named mine “A pursuit of sexual pleasure or men who hate women? – A visual and narrative comparison between two adaptations of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” which identifies the question discussed and the films I analysed. Your supervisor is going to tell you that they want a title when you’ve barely started your research but honestly, you don’t have to stick to it anyway – a good title requires the entire dissertation journey.

Other general tips

Find a good place to study
I found the library the best place for me to study. I would rather spend 10-12 hours there and eat pasta out of a tupperware instead of risking falling asleep at home or getting distracted by things. By being in the library I would also see other people study which helped me to focus. But this is very individual, like my housemate works really well at home and some can find their focus in a café. No matter where you find it easiest to study, it’s good to be in a place that has food and water.

Good things to help you:
Grammarly – Not just a spell checker but also picks up on grammar mistakes
Thesaurus – Look up synonyms, literally a life saviour when I’d run out of ways to say penis
Cite This For Me – Basically does your bibliography for you (I haven’t used this but many of my friends do)
Tomato Timer/Pomodoro – An app on the web and on your phone that helps you schedule your breaks. You study for 25 mins, break for 5 mins, 25 mins + 5min, 25 mins + 5 mins and then 25 mins and a longer 10/15 mins break.
RainyMood – Literally the sound of rain in the background, works really well for me to relax and focus
Good old water, hand cream & vaseline – Because your throat, hands and lips will get dry

Get a study buddy
My friend Bella and I were friends before we started our dissertations but it was through our mutual suffering in the library that we became so much closer. We would message each other in the mornings saying if and when we were going to the library, we took breaks and went for dinners together, tagged each other in study-dying-memes together and just generally encouraged each other. Because most people in the UK write their dissertations in the spring term, it was basically just us film students whose were due in the autumn term and it can sometimes feel lonely. So go and get a friend who’s also writing theirs because you really need a friend to not go mad.

Your health
When I was writing my dissertation, I was almost always stressed, I got really bad rashes due to the stress and I basically lived on pasta pesto or tortellini because I felt too stressed to cook anything properly. This was definitely not a healthy way and I do think it’s ridiculous that students are put under so much pressure to the extent that it affects our physical and mental health. As I did have so much to do, I couldn’t take off a full weekend do things – there was simply not enough time for me to do that. Instead, I tried to do small things every now and then, such as spending an hour or so down in the kitchen with my housemates, having tea and biscuit breaks with my classmates in the library and one evening I binge watched season 2 of Stranger Things – 
take breaks. Your dissertation is not worth sacrificing your health.

 

As said earlier, every person will have their own ways of studying that works best for them but I hope this was to some help at least.

Pia x

Hi 2018

2018 is here and I spent the first 8-and-a-bit days in Stockholm, just trying to enjoy the fresh air, being surrounded by water, my parents’ puppy and spending time with my friends before almost all of us headed back to university. The first week back was probably the most intense first week I’ve ever had after a break, with three days of filming, a film to edit (will show you guys later!) and the launching of the crowdfunding campaign for my graduate film, Going Miles, that I’m doing with a little group of great people. Please please help us fund this amazing film and share it! 

Despite everything that I have to do in the next five months, the stress that comes with it and the daunting feeling of graduation coming closer, I’m so excited for everything. I’ve bought John Green’s latest book Turtles All the Way Down which I’m going to start reading tonight, Hanya Yanagihara’s book A Little Life is on the way and I’m currently sat in my kitchen listening to the latest episode of One Way Ticket-podcast (på riktigt min favoritpodd – om att flytta och bo utomlands!) and eating 70% chocolate because I just got my period.

Yesterday I had a live marking feedback session for my latest film where I got surprisingly good feedback and it left me feeling extremely excited about filmmaking and I walked home thinking about a story that I’ve been wanting to write for a while, which I hope to start writing a bit on soon. Hope everyone’s having a great week!

 

Pia x

My 2017

I started the year at Mosebacke terrace with Maria, Gustaf and our other friends, looking out over Stockholm. Two days later I flew back to England with a wall calendar that featured different illustrated plants that I had bought from the bookshop I worked extra at.

In February I shot my film The Beach and we spent a whole day down in Seaford, a small town near Brighton and for a mid-February day, the weather was amazing.

March was filled with uni work and I started thinking about my dissertation as the sun came to Egham.

In April I went to see Gustaf and Maria in Berlin.

Less than a month later, I went to Barcelona with my friends from my course.

I turned 21 and celebrated it with a joint birthday party with Sonal and our closest friends.

The summer was mostly spent in Stockholm where I got my first real production assistant job for Astrid S’ music video Such A Boy, and in London I had a 2 week internship at a production company. I went to Platform 9 3/4 with Jess to experience Nineteen Year Later and then rushed through London to get a flight back to Popaganda music festival where I saw Phoenix.

I went to Copenhagen for a few days – my final vacation and relaxing time before I spent the next two months writing my dissertation alongside my other courses.

& then finally in November I was finished!

I’ve put more effort into uni work that I’ve ever done before, I’ve been to three countries, written a 10,000-word undergraduate dissertation and watched some amazing films (more about that in a separate post!). Despite the ups and down with uni work, I’ve had an incredible year – especially an amazing summer term when I barely had any classes or exams so it was spent with friends and a week-long trip to Barcelona. For 2018 I’m hoping to try and be less stressed, go for more walks (I literally have Great Windsor Park and Virginia Water around the corner from my house), try lots of new food and if I have time and money; try and go someplace new with friends.
(and try to cope with life after university)

Happy New Year!

Pia x

Copenhagen pt. 2

G L Y P T O T E K E T

Before I went to Copenhagen, I knew I wanted to visit Glyptoteket, an art museum that primarily focuses on sculptures but also has paintings from Danish and European artists. Entry is only 95DKK (aprox. £11) for adults and 50DKK (£6) for under 27s but if you go on a Tuesday (which I didn’t because I didn’t know about it) it’s free! When you first walk in, you’re met with this huge round room with a high ceiling (first picture) and plants and small waterfalls mixed with sculptures. Just that room is amazing enough to recommend everyone to go and visit it if you’re in Copenhagen or Malmö, the Swedish city just 35 minutes away across the bridge.

2018 is just around the corner which means that I go back to university in just little over a week – my final term (or, I see spring term and summer term as the same term because we don’t divide them here in Sweden) before I graduate. I’ve always been set on moving into proper city-London instead of my little suburb and try and find a job within film production or similar, but after visiting Copenhagen and seeing the success of Scandinavian films, I’ve been toying with the idea of maybe moving there. I will probably end up in London though, as the majority of my friends live in England (and most of them around the London area or max an hour away) and as barely any of my Swedish friends actually live in Stockholm anymore because of university. Also the fact that I don’t speak Danish but only understand most of it and I reckon most jobs require at least some written and spoken knowledge of the language.

 

& & & ! With the new year, I decided it was time to change the blog’s design – hopefully it’s slightly easier to navigate. Happy New Year to everyone who celebrates it!

Pia x

10 000 words later

Thursday was finally the day I handed in my dissertation named “A pursuit of sexual pleasure or men who hate women? – A visual and narrative comparison between two adaptations of Steig Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” and then got very drunk, spent all Friday in bed before going out drinking again, vomiting at 20:00 and passing out in bed.

 

Pia x

Copenhagen pt. 1

N Y H A V N

T H E   B O T A N I C   G A R D E N

It seems that I only have time to write here about once a month which is quite sad as my ideal weekend would be spent in my cosy bed with tea, reading blogs and writing here. I’ve been so busy with two weeks of shooting films for a Shakespeare project, presentation, essay and of course, my 10 000 words of death; the dissertation. I’m on the final days now, with only 5 days until hand-in and I feel a mix of stress, relief, panic and complete exhaustion.

I’ve wanted to share some photos from when I was in Copenhagen in September, which funny enough, was a trip to do research for my dissertation – which slightly backfired as the only material they had at the Danish Film Institute were things I’d already looked at back at the Swedish Film Institute. Nevertheless, it was a good trip with a mix of hot sunshine and pissing down rain (which at that point, I was on a bicycle and trying to not get run over by the other cyclists).

Graduation is slowly coming closer (6 months and I’ll be done with my degree!) and I’m trying to both keep sorta on top of my uni work whilst applying for internships and jobs for the life beyond academia. I’m having mixed feelings about where I want to go; I’ve always said I wanted to move into proper London (and not the little commuter suburb I currently live in) but now with such great success in the Scandinavian film industry, I’m keen on trying to get a job there as well. (also, I do miss the food) Can I do both? Time-turner?

 

Pia x

p.s. my last name change has finally been approved from Svensson to Josephson, in honour of my late grandmother Harriet, born Josephson.

A day in October

Hello there, quite a long time and no see. I’ve been meaning to write about Copenhagen, about nice food and other fun things, but I’ve been extremely busy. I’m doing around 8 hours per day (yes, every day, even weekends, and no, I have no idea how I cope with it) in the library as my dissertation is due in less than 5 weeks and on top of that, I have a 5 minute film to write and shoot, an essay and a presentation to do.

Today and yesterday was spent with Amelie who was over for a little London visit and I fell in love with a yellow puffer from Zara that I wore today. It’s so warm and feels almost like wearing a duvet which is perfect for me as I hate leaving my bed in the mornings. Yesterday was spent shopping (hello student finance!), having Bibimbap for lunch, a visit to the V&A and finishing off with an amazing pizza at Franco Manca in South Kensington.

This morning we had breakfast at No.11 Pimlico Road, Amelie had pancakes that she highly recommend and I had a rice bowl that could’ve been nicer. The egg yolk wasn’t runny (that chef really didn’t know how to poach an egg) and the tomatoes were a bit boring but the rice was amazing. Really pretty setting so I do recommend it! Then we walked by the Thames to Waterloo among the tourists who also enjoyed the cold but sunny weather before we said goodbye as Amelie had to go to the airport.

I have lots of nice things I want to write about, photos to show, but it may be on hold for a little bit until my dissertation (I swear I don’t even know enough words to fill out those 10 000) is handed in.

 

Pia x

Moleskine Weekly Planner

School and university has just started back home in Sweden and it’s just around the corner here for us in the UK. Flora asked me the other day if I knew any good planners that weren’t too expensive but also not the cheap kind with the metal spiral spine. I replied quickly with a link and said, “look no further”.

I’ve used the Moleskine Weekly Planner since January 2014 and I could not see myself using another one. It’s compact (a bit slimmer than the regular A5 paper), comes in different colours, sizes (pocket, the one I have and a larger that’s close to an A4) and you can choose between hard and soft cover. At the back, as with all traditional Moleskines, there’s a little pocket where you can put important notes such as receipts, post stamps, a small photograph of someone you like, you name it.

My one is the traditional black with a soft cover. What’s great about the Moleskine Weekly Planner is that I have the days on the left side, including an empty bit at the top which I usually use when it’s something that I have all week (like that I’m in Stockholm that week), and just normal ruled lines on the right side. It’s great because I usually don’t need to write a lot on each specific day, but rather lists and reminders that cover the whole week. Sometimes it’s not enough though but I just put some extra post-it notes on that page if I’ve run out of space.

The Moleskine Weekly Planner can be bought both with 12 months, running January to December (the ones I have) but also with 18 months, running from July one year to December the next, which makes it perfect for when you go back to school, university of work. They also do monthly planners and daily, and I might give the daily one a try for 2018 as hopefully with whatever I’m doing after graduation, it will cover a full page for each day.

So hot tip for everyone – the only planner you’ll ever need!

 

Pia x

An update

Hello everyone, I’ve neglected this space for the past months due to being, for once, quite busy. I wanted to see as many friends as possible when I was in Stockholm and simply didn’t time to sit down and write a blog post. I also went over to my parents’ summer house in Stockholm’s archipelago for a few days of sun, cliffs, food and reading those books I’ve been meaning to read.

When August started, I flew back to England to move into my new house, had the most stressful IKEA experience ever and then two days later, I started my internship at a production company in central London. For two weeks, I commuted 2×2 hours/day and mostly sat by a computer for all of those days. Which was an experience itself and after that I realise how hard the transition from university to real professional work is going to be.

I finished on Friday, went straight to celebrate my friend’s KJ’s 20th birthday before going home and finally being able to properly sleep without having to worry about anything. I did nothing yesterday except reading blogs, screen shopping for clothes I can’t afford and watched a film, which felt incredible. When I had my internship, I had to leave my house at 07:45 and didn’t get home until maybe 19:00-19:30 due to trains being extremely late, and by the time I got home I was too tired to do anything except have dinner and chat a bit with my housemate Emma before it was time for bed.

I’ve only been here for about 16 days, but I’m actually already going back to Stockholm in like 12 days to go to a music festival, Popaganda, visit the Swedish film institute to do research for my dissertation, see some friends at Lund’s university before going to Copenhagen and do more research at the Danish film institute. And when I get back again, uni is just around the corner and I’m back to full-time studying, this time for THIRD year. Quite daunting as it’s not only the fact that time has gone so fast, but that my dissertation is due at the end of November and I’m going to be completely done with a degree by June. Can I stay in education forever?

Pia x