I am a student pursuing an MA in Teaching English to Speakers of other Languages. My dissertation is a questionnaire-based study, which means it will take a lot of time to design, hand out, collect my data, and analyse it. I prepared my questionnaire design in April and used the entire month of May to collect data from my participants. At the same time, I was studying the third-term modules and doing the assignments for each class. Following the third term, I travelled to Norway in order to clear my mind and relax; it is important to approach the dissertation with a level head. Currently, I am analysing my research data and writing my dissertation. Overall a well-planned schedule is really useful for a smooth dissertation period, and may help you avoid suffering to complete your work too close to the deadline! 😀
Today’s entry is about staying balanced, while maintaining focus, during the dissertation period. This discussion couldn’t be more fitting for this time of year: we’re in mid-July now, which means there’s only a month and a half to go! Summertime in London creates an interesting predicament for MA students who need to stay atop our research, while also enjoying the rarity of a sunny afternoon.
In the dissertation period I’ve realised that it’s very easy to dip in and out of productivity, and unfortunately I’ve experienced it firsthand. I had a strong couple of weeks researching in the middle of June but, rather than keeping up the momentum, I found myself neglecting my responsibilities as I subconsciously felt justified in taking a long break. The problem for me is that I also work full-time. I had a pretty big reality check last week as I noted my August rota and came to realise how little time I have left before my dissertation is due.
The million pound question is then how do we successfully balance work and study? First and foremost, be honest with yourself and your capabilities. If you’re planning to be employed during dissertation time it’s important for you to make yourself a realistic research schedule. Outside of my “relaxation period” I’ve made weekly goals of either reaching a specific word count or finishing a subsection. I try not to push myself too far and make individual goals catered around what my life is like each week, as I feel it’s important to avoid feeling discouraged by failure of not achieving those goals.
The second important thing is to make some time for your friends. Yes, they will be there when you finish, and yes there will be social events after your dissertation deadline, but it’s important to stay sane during this intense period. Reward yourself for meeting your goals by allowing yourself a cheeky day or night out with your friends to unwind and give your brain a break. As it stands, I research after work and typically allocate all of my days off work to research as well, but give myself one to two nights a week after work to socialise. I have found this to be the best way of maintaining research alongside employment and friends (assuming I make the most out of my days off)!
While writing your master’s dissertation at King’s (and almost every other university in the U.K.), everyone else is enjoying their summer holiday on vacation or doing other things to enjoy their break from school or work. Therefore, I have discovered some things to help me keep motivated and efficient throughout the dissertation period. Here are my tips:
- Organize: From the very beginning of your dissertation period after the examination period in May, start to plan your summer. Maybe divide the time before the dissertation deadline into different parts with specific goals for each chunk of time. This will all help you to keep the bigger picture in mind, and help you structure your days. It will also keep you calm, because you are following a track you know will end with you being done.
- Break: Take a break after the examination period, even if it is just a few days; it will make the transition to writing your dissertation much easier. It will also help your mind prepare to produce your best work yet, all during one summer. And, after the exams, you deserve a break from school!
- Plan the fun: Plan fun activities all throughout the summer, so you always have something to look forward to. This helps to keep motivated and efficient when you are working.
- Study together: the library is significantly emptier in the summer months than during the year. As a result, it can feel quite lonely and demotivating to study alone each day. Therefore, I choose to often go with friends to the library, so we can have break together and talk about things that do not involve the dissertation or school at all.
I am a part-time master’s student so I effectively had 2 years to prepare and implement my dissertation. However, because I work full-time, it was still a challenge. My advice? Plan, plan, and plan some more. Ensure you know your topic before you even start your master’s and make sure it is something you are passionate about! That is so important. And ensure to contact your supervisor as quickly as possible and build up that very important relationship with them in order to have their support. The more the supervisor knows about your circumstances the more they can help you. The next stage after that is to get your ethical approval as quickly as possible; this allows you to get on with the all important research and interviews.
Research & write-up
I always believe that you can never stop researching your dissertation topic, so I don’t like to put a deadline for research. For instance, I researched for two months which allowed enough time to understand where I want to go with the project. You should treat research and writing as parallel, not necessarily sequential. I have listed few points below that I experienced during my journey:
- Feeling overwhelmed. After writing the first thousand words I realized I had 15 times that amount left to write in the next 5 months, atop working full time and having a wife and baby girl I need to take care of. I became very overwhelmed, but I took a deep breath and reminded myself my mother did her PhD with four children and a full-time job. The moral of the story is that there are thousands of students just like me who endure harder situations, and yet have managed great successes in their dissertations. So just carry on working, and it will be done.
- My supervisor gave me a good pointer: Thinking is research too. That means when you are thinking about your dissertation but not on the computer, that is still time well spent. Also, closing your computer when you have writer’s block isn’t a bad thing. Go for a walk, read a book, or simply sit there and think about it. This allows you to understand your research more. In my case I played with my daughter while thinking about what I should include. This helped me cover a lot and push through that writer’s block.
- Utilizing the resources available. There are dissertation seminars that provide you with a good understanding as well as your supervisor. Furthermore if you really don’t know where to start, follow this library link.* This is your one stop shop for academic literature on your subject. The interface is straightforward and there’s an excellent help file there.
*Click on ‘find databases’. Type in ‘IBSS’. Follow the link to International Bibliography of the Social Sciences (for social science subjects).
My MA TESOL programme combines theory and practice. In the theory study classroom, because the size of the class is quite small, each course is a workshop-lecture. Before each lesson, my classmates and I read the reference book and come with questions. In the class, the lecturers participate in our group discussion. After the class we also have the study group of 3-4 people, discussing the reading questions or assignment together.
For the teaching practice, I often write my plans on my own, then share it with peers for modification. After the lessons and each tutor’s feedback we still have peer evaluations that we organize ourselves, which is very useful!
There are workshops for fine-tuning research skills, dissertation writing, and exciting conferences that King’s offers. One of my classmates even won the fund from King’s to participate in an international TESOL conference.
As I sit here writing this post I can feel the warm rays of the sun coming from a nearby window, and I’m just marveling at the fact that it’s already May! I feel like it’s just snuck up on us! This month will forever be associated with deadlines and coursework as it is just as hectic of a time for a Master’s student as it is for those working on their Bachelor’s degrees. We’ve officially got four months to go until our dissertations are bound and handed in, so, as you can imagine, the air is very tense at the moment. As a part-time student, however, I can’t deny that I am at an advantage. I’m in my final year now, so I’ve been able to fine-tune tips and strategies to make the most out of my revision time. My previous strategy of combing through everything, line-by-line, left me wasting hours on reading that wasn’t specifically relevant to my research. My personal tutor advised me to instead start by reading the abstract, introduction and conclusion of articles, etc., in order to determine their value in relation to my research, and then proceed with reading the entire piece of work if I thought it would benefit my argument. Sounds pretty intuitive right? Sometimes when we’re stressed it’s hard to think with common sense, so I’m glad she spelled it out for me! My dissertation supervisor has also pushed me to think systematically, which is really important. I naturally think creatively, so I often focus on the bigger picture when conducting research, which can be good, but can also cause me to miss important details as I go along. Instead, I now try to focus on each section of my work in and of itself. This has allowed me to better build the subdivisions of my research, and work on tying up any lose ends once I’ve finished a first draft. If you’re a bit stubborn like me and can’t get out of your head, try jotting down notes for your other sections as you research, complete with links and references to material you stumble upon, so you can better concentrate on the subsection you’re dealing with, safe in the comfort that your good (but momentarily irrelevant) ideas aren’t lost.
Advice on how to cut time while still researching efficiently is useful to any student, but these tips were especially useful to me as I also work 32 hours a week. I’ve discussed balancing education and employment in previous blog posts, but I’d like to stress for any new readers that it can be challenging. My best advice is to know, but more importantly accept, your limits. Between uni and work, I’ve gone weeks without a day off, so in order to get the most out of my time I do my best to get a hold of my rota as far in advance as possible, so I can coordinate my days off/early shifts with my deadlines. It’s hard to motivate yourself when you feel a bit overwhelmed with deadlines and coursework, so just do your best to remember that you will feel much better if you allow yourself to break up your workload rather than leave it to the last minute.
When it comes to efficient study, one thing that is sometimes over looked is allowing yourself a break. Again, I’ve mentioned this before, but I can’t stress it enough! I’ve had my fair share of times when I’ve let my academic and occupational responsibilities get the best of me, and my body has never failed to let me know when I’ve pushed myself too far. It’s so important to give yourself some time to be social or to immerse yourself in a hobby that isn’t uni or work related. The one thing I’ve found to truly help me relax is going to gigs. It’s something I’ve been doing since I was fifteen, but ten years on I’ve realised that I rely on them now more than ever. The energy at a gig is incredible, and the best part is that the moment the music comes on you can’t help but forget about the fact that you have a deadline in a week or work in the morning, because the music is so loud and you’re so distracted by hearing your favourite songs that you’re forced to live in the moment! It’s not the cheapest hobby in the world, but I’d recommend it to anyone who’s feeling the pressure of student life!
As for prospective students, I’d recommend taking this time to slowly familiarize yourself with the topic you’ve chosen to study. Build relationships with published work in your field and find specific topics you’re interested in. Start asking yourself how you think this degree can impact your life, and likewise, how you think having this degree can impact the world. Getting yourself in this frame of mind will help you choose topics for research and allow you to hone in on an aspect of your area of study that you can expand on in your dissertation.
Until next time!
What study habits have you adopted for your degree?
My study habits have changed quite a bit. As an undergraduate, I generally wrote one rough draft for a paper. Now, I write on average around seven. Each professor has their own preference for how they like papers to be written and that needs to be taken into account. Also, I am not used to the exam system. I have spent more time practising writing answers to essay questions.
What tips do you have for preparing for a master’s at King’s?
For any degree with mathematics or economics, I would take a refresher course on Khan Academy. Yes, it is a shameless plug. Khan Academy rocks.
How do you plan ahead and manage your work load?
I have a planner that I use for long-term projects. In the short term, I use Google calendar and my iPad to send me reminders.
Do you have a hobby that helps you balance studying with your other interests?
Yes, I do! I love to knit. It is rhythmic and so it helps calm my nerves. My husband and I also go hiking when we can. We spent a week hiking around Scotland.
What sort of academic support is offered at King’s?
The library offers a lot of support for different things. Professors are also very helpful. My department offers a course for postgraduate dissertations.
Is there any other advice you would offer re: study skills at a master’s level?
Once you arrive, I would look at dissertations from your degree that are in the library. These are good examples of what will be expected from you. My tutor (a professor assigned to you) suggested this to me. It really helped me take my writing to the next level.
Now that it’s time for exams and papers again, I am returning to the routines I developed in the exam period of the first term of my MA. When completing my BA, we only had one week to study for our exams, and then we had all four exams within a week, often a few on the same day. So, my transition to King’s where we have almost two months of studying, writing and prepping for exams was quite a big one. So much freedom to take advantage of! Here are 5 tips for you who will be going through the same transition to a long exam period as me next year, which hopefully will help you not to stress and worry about them. I have found them to actually be quite enjoyable!
- Count things you have completed, not hours. Make lists, be organized, and remember to check things off your lists when completed. This allows you to set day-to-day goals and weekly goals based on the work you get done, and not simply hours spent studying. We all know how our focus and effectiveness can vary throughout a day…
- Take care of your body. Yes, you’ve heard it a million times but that’s because it’s so important. Remember to sleep, eat well, and exercise throughout your exam period and you will see results not only in your work, but also mentally.
- Go outside. Sitting still at a desk for 12 hours a day is not good for anything, especially not your work. Go outside when you have a break, eat your lunch outside, or go for walks in the morning/evening. It helps, I promise.
- Be social. Although it is a stressful time of year, and you feel like you have too much to do and not enough time, remember to hang out with your classmates/friends/family in settings where you do not have to think about school. This will encourage you to work harder when you’re studying, and make you happier!
- Take time off. Be strict with yourself and work when you are studying, but remember to be just as strict with the time you allow yourself to have “off”. Maybe you have one day a week where you do not do any work, and just have fun. Or maybe you go out of town for a weekend with some friends. Or maybe you go home and see your family and relax for a bit. Whatever works for you, just remember to allow yourself some time to not worry and stress about school.
…And if you find these tips boring and not useful for you, do not forget that King’s has great study skills, tips, and guides online (I found these very useful for my first exam period at King’s).
What study habits have you adopted for your degree thus far?
My degree is mostly qualitative, therefore the best habits I have adopted is to do a lot of reading. Students are given a reading list in the first weeks of the degree, and my advice would be to read as many of those books on the list as possible as it allows you to really open your mind and get into the essence of the degree. I am sure many people who are thinking of this degree do this already however it really is good practice to be up to date with world news and social media, which helps during class discussions.
What tips do you have for preparing for a master’s at King’s?
The main tip is to do your research on exactly what topics you are interested in; this will come in handy when selecting your modules because the more informed you are the easier the choice will become. Another tip would be to start thinking about your dissertation topic; the earlier you start thinking about it and preparing for it the more advantaged you are. Within the first few months you will be required to submit a 1000 word proposal of your topic and while that doesn’t sound like much, with all the other things going on, it’s worth having a topic in mind as early as possible.
How do you plan ahead and manage your workload?
I currently work as well as studying so I don’t have much time for anything. Therefore, time management is essential for me. Once you get into the groove, it becomes a way of life. I have very good rapport with my tutors, therefore even if I can’t make the class they know that I am on it and I wont miss a thing. Accordingly I’d advise that you keep tutors informed of your movements if you miss anything in class. Some modules publish their material online in the Keats portal, which makes life very easy as I can login anywhere in the world and catch up on anything I missed. The final thing is planning ahead; when I know I have an important week ahead at work, I make sure I utilize my weekends and any free time to be ahead with my studies. You are given all your assessment dates and deadlines early in the year so you really can plan ahead months in advance making sure you don’t waste any spare time.
What sort of academic support is offered at King’s?
King’s has very engaging supervisors, which is useful. The university also offers classes throughout the year on pretty much any subject, and the classes are free to King’s students. I have listed a few examples below:
Public speaking workshops
Academic English skills
Study support skills
Modern language courses
Free online language resources for king’s students.
If you are a non-native English language speaker, what sort of support does King’s have for such students?
The English language center provides support tailored to the student, a lot of my non – native English-speaking friends told me they just showed up, had a chat with the department, and they were given a lot of support.
Is there any other advice you would offer re: study skills at a master’s level?
If you follow this link you will be able to see all study support on offer to King’s students.
Hello offer holders and prospective students!
Spring is almost here, and with the influx of sunshine I’d mark it as a great time to visit London and familiarise yourself with the transport links and vibrant corners of the capital city. Finding accommodation in an unfamiliar city can be daunting for anyone, so it would be a great idea to plan a visit to London ahead of moving here. Signing up with letting agencies can get a little pricey, so I’d recommend being open to alternatives like spareroom.com and gumtree.com (while being mindful of your safety, of course!). Facebook is also another avenue worth exploring, as there are King’s student groups, sometimes specific to a course or just for students in general, where spare rooms are advertised. This might work more in your favour, as someone else has already done the hard work of finding accommodation close to university and mapping the most efficient route of getting there! The best advice I can give is not to put it off too long; the earlier you start looking, the better!
Travel around London quickly becomes second nature once you start a routine, so don’t feel too intimidated by the Tube map! Sign up for your student Oyster card as soon as you’re able to, so you’re not stuck paying expensive travel fees, and then go and explore! You’ll soon find that London is actually a lot smaller than you might think. While the Tube map is great for underground navigation, it can also be quite deceiving as a lot of stops are only a short walk apart from each other. If you have a smart phone, download the City Mapper app (it’s free!) and give yourself a day to try and walk to all of your destinations. Our roads are a bit spaghetti-shaped, but soon you’ll be navigating them like a pro.