Help with Dissertations

In practice, dissertations serve two purposes in UK Higher Education. They are used everywhere to test students, as a kind of takeaway examination, and the mark you get influences the class of degree you are awarded. And they are also used, but far less widely and far less systematically, to give students a good learning experience.

In my personal experience – yes, personal, but corroborated by what I read in the dissertation handbooks available online – most academics view dissertations as exams. (You might even be marked on your preliminary work, like formulating your proposal.) The consequence is that very stringent limits are set on the help that academics give students. In extreme cases, you get no help at all beyond choosing a title (if you’re lucky). There might possibly be a couple of workshops, but apart from that what you find is that you are expected to do something – carry out a project and write it up – which you haven’t actually been taught how to do!

This is an issue which I address in my book Excellent Dissertations! (second edition due to be published in April 2011), but because I feel so strongly about it I’m prepared to offer a helping hand to students who are getting no support from their supervisor. There’s a limit to how much time I can devote to this, but it’s surprising how much can be achieved with a phone call and a couple of email exchanges. (The payoff for me is that it keeps me in touch with the academic world and that getting an excited phone call to say ‘I got a distinction!’ – this from a student who was effectively written off by her supervisor – is very satisfying!) To get in touch send me an email: peter.levin [at]