Study & work

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

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

Weekday shirt

I’m at that point in life where I refuse to check my bank account as I know it will only make me stressed and sad. I’m basically doing stuff that’s either extremely cheap or free, which means eating the occasional ice cream and reading on the balcony. As I’m pretty much the only one of my friends who don’t have a job or a holiday planned, I’ve so far read 2,5 books and neglecting all my uni work. I’ve also been sorting out paperwork to get my last name changed (finally!) as I’d rather have my maternal grandmother’s last name than the one I have now for several reasons, but the main one being that my current one, Svensson, is just simply too fucking common. So hopefully that will be sorted out and approved in some 6 maybe weeks.

A couple of weeks ago I saw this shirt at Weekday, but it was 500SEK at that point. Lucky for me it was on sale yesterday for only 150SEK and I got the last one, hence why it’s massive as it’s a large. But it’s so comfortable and I feel like a person who eats healthy and laughs in every photo that’s taken of me. (which doesn’t happen though)

On a little funny note; during the spring term, I took an online course from Umeå University in democracy, human rights and sustainability. I had one final essay to hand in about a month ago, but due to other uni work I decided to prioritise, my birthday and moving house/going back to Sweden, I didn’t hand it in until a few days ago. (26 days late – do not recommend) Lucky for me, the professor agreed to read it and mark it as the essay was the final one and I had to pass it to pass the course. Earlier today I got an email from the professor saying that, whilst I did pass with distinction, my essay had “inappropriate use of informal language”. As I was stressed and wanted to hand it in asap, I didn’t proofread it properly, so in the essay it said:

“…The four countries alone are responsible for over 50% of total GHG emissions in 2012 – fucking important that they sort themselves out

I had forgotten to take out my own notes in the actual essay. Hopefully, he had a little laugh about it.

(also, I have about 90 photos from my disposable cameras from the past three months, so I’ll show you guys those later!)

Pia x

 

A Day at the Beach

After weeks of planning, we finally went to the beach on Saturday to shoot the short film I wrote for my directing class. It was an incredibly sunny and warm mid-February day (which for filmmaking isn’t that great, but we did our best to work around it) and we had rented a 9 seat minibus for our cast and crew.

We went down to Seaford, a small town near Brighton.

Sitting on the bus, we all let out a shriek when we saw the sea.

Hollie, Molly and I decided to go and test the water – it was probably freezing cold but my feet died from the pebbles so I wouldn’t have noticed.

My little cast & crew.

I still can’t believe that we pulled it off. As my teacher read my script, he asked if I was actually planning to go to the beach and laughed a bit when I said I’d try, and then we actually did it. The best part of it was the feeling of going on a short day trip/holiday but at the same time, making a film. & I’m starting to understand how filmmaking is essentially like getting a very large family.

Pia x

#GIRLBOSS

Honestly, I feel like I can do anything with this top.  & today I’ve so far sent 6 emails to 9 different people, had a script tutorial about my film I’m shooting next week, filled in forms, and had a cup of tea with two egg, spinach and spring onion toasts – in three hours! (on the topic of food; I’d like to take this opportunity to push for the lunch I had yesterday; fried potatoes with breadcrumbs, spinach with butter, a fried egg, spring onions and sesame seeds – cheap, healthy and so good)

I’m in a bit of busy period at the moment, with four film shoots over the next 2 weeks, two essays, a presentation, several 500-1000 words hand-ins in my Economic History course and Democracy course (aka a lot of reading and self-studying), and then I have a practical editing exam just before the Easter holidays. I’m almost half way through spring term and it’s scary how quickly everything goes. (my suitcase is still in my room rather than in the garage) But I’m really excited about the upcoming weeks, even if it’s stressful. Oh and also, I got onto the university’s placement scheme so I’ll most likely get a short internship this summer!

It’s been starting to get cold again. Last week we had fair bit of sun and 12 degrees, but just half an hour ago, I saw it was snowing lightly. Not enough to stay on the ground, but still. Sitting in my cold house, freezing my fingers off as I type this, it’s hard to imagine summer and proper warmth. Hopefully Berlin in the end of April will be warm.

 

Pia x

Screenshots

… from a film I did that I’m not happy with but it was good practice and my teacher called me a “sensitive director with potential to go far” before saying my story was too big and not that great, but oh well, I had fun making it.

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We’re currently working on our 5-minute short films and this time, I do have a stronger and better story (hopefully) this time and will be working with a larger crew, two wonderful actors and we’re hopefully going to a beach in southern England to film. When I first came to uni (and even before during my application process), I thought I knew what kind of films I wanted to make, aka Sofia Coppola meets like Lukas Moodysson and Skins UK, but now I’m not that sure anymore. & that’s what I love about studying film at university; that it’s alright not to have found one’s style yet. I see people on my course who knows exactly what kind of films they want to do (which is seen in the films they make) but also people who have no clue and who jumps between genres and styles for every project. I feel that I’m somewhere in the middle – not entirely all over the place and trying everything (as I do know I want to go towards drama), but still not by the point where I know what kind of aesthetics and feel I want to create.

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I’ve been having a full on study week recently with about 8-12h of studying each day (no joke) as my dumb me decided to study 175% (my film degree, a course in global economic history and another course on democracy, human rights and sustainability). So tomorrow I’m taking the day off from studying to go to London and eat some Semlor (a type of Swedish sweet roll with cardamon, almond paste and whipped cream – go get it! All Swedish/Scandinavian bakeries/cafés should have them now), visit some galleries and just in general chill. & then it’s back to studying on Sunday – have a  great weekend!

Pia x

(p.s. yesterday I bought tickets to go and see Maria and Gustaf in Berlin in April!)

Montage exercise

Hi everyone, I’ve been having a few busy weeks lately and will be busy until term ends and even beyond that, I’m actually filming the day after. I’d just like to a share a bit of what I’m actually doing at university; a montage exercise for my directing class. Many thanks to my crew and Aria for acting.

Pia x

What I’m studying

I’m currently in my second year of the Film, Television & Digital Production programme at Royal Holloway, University of London. As part of this programme, we choose two practical courses to specialise in and then continue with one of them in our third year. For this year, I chose Directing Screen Fiction and Screenwriting, and will probably continue with the first one next year. It’s a lot of work to do for both courses and even more as I also do two theory courses (Women’s Cinema and Moderna European Cinema), but on top of that, I also study another 50%.

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Say hi to Introduction to Law. It’s a course worth 15 ECTS credits (same system Sweden uses, but worth 30 credits here in the UK) I’m studying online through Umeå University. It’s essentially the same as any university course; I have to buy textbooks, the expectations and level are the same, but it’s all done online. There are pre-recorded lectures for every topic and every now and then I have group assignments which I do through Skype. (my group consists of people living in Sweden, Denmark, Taiwan, and then me in England) What’s so good with it that I can plan when to listen to the lectures and of course, I can do it alongside my film degree.

I’ve never been particularly interested in law, but when my friend Anna recommended it after doing it as an evening course at Stockholm University (and now she’s doing a law degree at Lund University!), I decided to go for it. It differs a lot from what I’m studying and what I’ve studied earlier at upper secondary level, as it’s another way of studying. Rather than to learn about political theories, history, culture and analyse it, it’s mainly about solving problems.

Since I started with the course, I feel it’s a good base of general knowledge to have, as a lot of the problems we deal with are common once that you’re likely to face in real life, as divorce, home ownership, etc. It is a lot of extra work to take on, and it’s one of the reasons I don’t have a part-time job. It’s definitely not for everyone to study extra, but if you feel that you have time and the determination to do it, I do recommend it. I’ve applied for a couple of other small courses for the spring term and I’ll see how this goes and if I decide to go for it.

 

I’d love to hear what all of you are studying/working with/doing, and why you do it, so please, tell me in the comment section!

Pia x

Directing class and London

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dir2

On Thursday, I had Directing for Screen Fiction class from 10:00-18:00 (I have more hours in a single day than what my friends’ have during an entire week) and we were divided into groups to go out and do  a one-shot exercise. I had the luck to be with Jake, Hollie, and Gemma, who are also all on my screenwriting course, and we literally spent the last four hours that day to just play around with the camera. It’s kinda funny how this is my actual degree, that instead of reading for most of my time, I get to do proper hands-on practical work.

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iwm2

On Saturday evening, Flora called me to catch up as we hadn’t seen each other for a couple of days (which is so weird because when we lived in the corridor last year, we saw each other about 90% of our waking time), and asked me if I wanted to go to the Imperial War Museum the next day. So yesterday, Flora, Mary, Jess and I took the train into London and learnt about wars. It’s very interesting for Mary (who’s from America) and me, to see how the Brits look upon the two world wars. Especially for me, as Sweden wasn’t explicitly in the war (even though we kinda were). We also saw an on-going exhibition about Ebola and ISIS, which we’d been really excited about but then it was kind of disappointing. I highly recommend the museum though because there’s a lot to see and it’s very interactive. Plus, free entry!

A list

… about work, studying and the future

 

1. What did you want to be as a kid?
A professional chef with my own TV programme – cooking shows was what I watched between the age of 3 to 9 –, and an architect because I loved The Sims more than food back then.

2. What did you want to be as a teenager?
I had a slight dream of becoming a war photographer because I feel that it’s one of the most important jobs and a very unappreciated one, but otherwise writer and working with advocating education, something I still aim to do some day.

3. What were you best and worst subjects in school?
Best: Maths (can you believe it), social science subjects (so politics, history and religion), art and English. Worst: Physics, chemistry and biology. Which is funny as I was really good at maths.

4. What was your very first paid job?
I used to babysit my cousin’s son from when I was 16 maybe? But otherwise, the play I wrote back in 2013 when I was 17.

5. What other jobs have you had?
I went on to do more babysitting for another family, a recruiter for UNHCR (not the greatest job, but I quite enjoyed it because of my colleagues), shop assistant in a bookshop, and I’m currently working as a catering assistant. (with a pay lower than what you give a 16-year-old in Sweden)

6. Your strengths and weaknesses?
Strengths: I’m quite organised even though it may not look like it, and when I get into a project, I really invest myself into it. Weaknesses: Cooking under pressure and getting up in the mornings.

7. Something you’re really proud of?
That I wrote a whole play whilst being at my lowest points in my life. Even though it got cancelled after eight months of production, I’m still proud of it and myself, because I proved to myself that I’m good enough, and maybe even more.

8. Something you would like to work with for a short while?
I would love to work with an art magazine or something. I was on the editorial board for my school magazine when I was 18, and it was such a great experience. Or design the fake flats in IKEA.

9. Jobs that you would be really bad at?
My current job, which is making baguettes and sandwiches. I can’t work with food under pressure and I’m total shit at cutting the sandwiches nicely. Other jobs I can’t see myself doing is everything that has to do with science and numbers.

10. What is the best thing about your degree? (BA Film, Television & Digital Production)
That I’m literally given all the tools to go out and do films on my free time. (which at this point, I haven’t really gotten into it, but I’m hoping to do it this and next year) We are free to borrow equipment and have access to powerful editing programmes 24/7. But also that I do feel it’s fairly free. Yes, we do get set assignments with different themes and such we need to follow, but when you look at the finished products, you see how different everyone’s is. We do have more freedom with our work than we think we do.

11. What are your plans after graduation?
It’s still far away, almost two years from now. I’m planning to stay here in London, and obviously, I would love to be a trainee at a film production company, or at least something with film. I would also like to really put time into writing on the side, so I sometime in the future, maybe, can do just that. But I’m also kind of drawn to the idea of going on a food trip? Like, go travelling for three months and learn how to cook in different parts of the world.

12. What are your hopes and dreams for your life in twenty years?
Having a job that I love, a family, and preferably a summer house by the sea in Stockholm’s archipelago.

 

Pia x