Surviving the dissertation period by Matt

It’s dissertation time. I have exactly five weeks (and counting) left until I hand in my dissertation. I have approximately 9,000 words completed and am starting to feel ‘the fear’ creeping in. Right now I’m in the super-efficient stage of the fear, feeling very focused and spending the majority of my spare time in the library. The battle is to keep from teetering over into panic and doubt – it’s about focus, perseverance and determination. It’s also really important to not put too much pressure on yourself, as well as look after yourself so that you’re healthy and happy.

I am confident that if I keep up an even pace, I will not slip into that all-too-familiar trap. So far I’m enjoying my work – I have never been so immersed in a topic – and believe this is the key to an enjoyable dissertation period. One of the biggest challenges for me has been keeping a narrow focus on my research question, and not drifting off into interesting, yet irrelevant, territory.

Starting the research early has been crucial. As a part-time student studying a master’s over two years, I have had plenty of time to think about my topic. However, recently I’ve had to do a lot of juggling as I have been working full time for the last two months – three days a week paid work for a charity and two days a week work experience for an MP – so I mainly study in the evenings and weekends. Although this has been difficult at times, I have had no regrets. Combining study and work experience will hopefully ease the job search following the dissertation hand-in.

I started researching for my dissertation in April before the exam period started, allowing myself a month off for revision and an additional week to recover. Clearly defining when and what I would be studying has helped me to keep focused. I also try and plan social events a week or so in advance so I can manage my study timetable accordingly. This may sound a little tedious but studying for a master’s is a great opportunity and it’s important to make the most of it.

As the hours and days go by, I have a building sense of both nervousness and excitement. It feels like there’s still a way to go, but I’m determined to do the best I can. I’m looking forward to handing in a piece of work I’m proud of, and then I will be more than ready to celebrate.

Matt’s Accommodation Advice

I’ve lived in London for four years, initially as a worker and then as part-time worker/student. I have also lived in many different areas – a very expensive way of seeing the city – so I have good knowledge of the private rented accommodation.

To be honest, living in private rented accommodation in London is expensive. Affordable housing is in short supply and high rent has priced many people out of central locations.

The good news: London is one of the most diverse cities in Europe and is built on an exciting array of cultures. This is reflected in the multiplicity of unique areas linked to the centre through an excellent (albeit busy) underground tube line. Moreover, if you give yourself enough time there are some brilliant bargains that will make you the envy of your less organised friends.

To get you started, here are my recommendations for locations that balance atmosphere, transport connections and rent that won’t break the bank!

The North
Beyond the expensive Angel area is Finsbury Park – my current home. Connected to the centre by the Victoria and Piccadilly lines, it offers quick links to university. An oasis at the end of Seven Sisters road, the area is renowned for its cafes, restaurants and pubs. It is the number one spot for Turkish food in London and is a stone’s throw away from trendy Stoke Newington in Hackney.

Matt's photo Finsbury ParkThe South 
Camberwell feels like a village within the city. A strong community feel stems from the numerous independent cafes and restaurants that line the High Street, or main road. There is no underground station driving up rent, but top bus links will get you to university in 20 minutes. It’s a short walk way from the bustling nightlife of Peckham, too.

The East
Mile End. Perhaps not the most picturesque part of London but very close to fashionable Hackney without the inflated rent. Shoreditch, Haggerston and Dalston are all easily accessible by bus and Victoria Park is only a short walk away. The Central line will get you into the city centre in 15 minutes.

The West
The west of London is notoriously expensive but there are some areas that can be affordable if you spend some time looking. Putney is known for its affluence but also has some good student-esque accommodation if you shop around. Right on the Thames, the area offers a pleasant atmosphere and is close to London’s museum quarter in Kensington.

There are so many interesting areas in London. I’d advise doing as much research as you can to find out where’s right for you. The important thing to note is that university is about experience and that is exactly what this vibrant capital offers!

Q&A with Matthew, MA Public Policy

PG Matthew's photoWhich book changed your life?
Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell.

If you could go back in time, where would you go?
London in the 13th century, post-French occupation and pre-Plague.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Earning a place on my MA, and I’m not just saying that.


Which living person do you most admire, and why?
Ed Miliband; he stands up for what he believes in…with varying degrees of success.

What is your earliest memory?
Sitting with my Siamese cat, Minky, in the garden on a balmy day back in the early 90s.

What is your most treasured possession?
Brown Ted.

Who would play you in the film of your life?
Martin Freeman or Robert Webb. Not the most flattering duo.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
Martin Freeman and Robert Webb to see who would get the part.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
To be honest…probably what I just said.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
Always wash your brushes and put your ladders away.

What inspired you to study your field?
Many things, but particularly the austerity agenda post-2010 and its impact on people.

What would you have liked to know 5 years ago that you know now?
The opinion polls in 2015 will be diabolically wrong.

How do you relax?
Going to the pub, cooking and spending time with friends and family.

What is your favourite word?
Loquacious.

Matt Byrne is originally from Godalming, Surrey but has lived in London for four years. He is in his second year of a part time Public Policy MA in the Department of Political Economy, having already studied History at the University of Sussex. The attached photo shows Matt in front of the iconic Elizabeth Tower aka Big Ben, at the north end of the Palace of Westminster in London. The great clock tower serves as a symbol of British politics, having overseen changes to legislation, government and democracy for nearly 160 years.

For more information about Matthew’s course, please follow the link