Staying balanced during dissertation period by Tamim

This dedicated work space with two computer screens is the secret to my dissertation. I use one for conducting research (left) and one for the write-up (right). Having this setup has proved so useful to me as I can really immerse myself in the dissertation and push forward with it.

This dedicated work space with two computer screens is the secret to my dissertation. I use one for conducting research (left) and one for the write-up (right). Having this setup has proved so useful to me as I can really immerse myself in the dissertation and push forward with it.

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:

  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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).

Tam’s exam and study tips

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.

Tam’s Accommodation Advice

I am a part-time master’s student who currently lives in a village north of London. I commute to London via King’s Cross, therefore my experience will only be useful to part-time students! It takes me half an hour to get to King’s Cross, 15 minutes to get to Holborn by tube, and then it’s a 10 minute leisurely walk to the Strand Campus. Therefore my commute is about an hour altogether, which is pretty much how long it takes to get from one place to another within London.

The perks of living outside London: you can use your downtime to explore the local countryside.

The perks of living outside London: you can use your downtime to explore the local countryside.

Part-time study translates to around 5 hours of in-class time per week, so I currently have to be on the Strand for 2 hours on Thursday and 2 hours on Friday. Other than that, I can study from home. King’s has absolutely fantastic online facilities so it is really easy to keep in touch with tutors and students. King’s also makes it easy to view course material online through Keats, the internal network for students and professors. I work in addition to studying, but my work is also flexible and allows me to work from home. The time I do need to go in to the office I try and make it coincide with the days I am in London for university. That said, I only travel to London 3-4 times a week maximum, which rarely exceeds £40 a week. Bearing in mind living outside London means everything else is cheap, £40 is not too bad in the grand scheme of things.

That said, my advice to you (especially if you are a part-time student with reduced work hours) is this: living outside the M25 and commuting to university is very manageable, therefore it is definitely something that should be considered. The campus is so central that it is close to all main stations such as Waterloo, London Bridge and King’s Cross St. Pancras. I enjoy the best of both worlds: the country living, walks and reading in the parks, while also being able to go to London when it’s time to work!

Q&A with Tam, MA War Studies

PG Tamim's photoIf you could go back in time, where would you go?
I would love to go back to the Renaissance (15th Century) and Live in Italy Florence. It must have been one of the most beautiful architecture of its time.


How do you relax?
I am either in the gym, or watching something so silly such as impractical  jokers, to put a trivial twist on a serious world we live in.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
Be thankful for absolutely everything you have, such as the gift of sight and the gift of walking. Make the most of everything you have and waste no time!

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
If you have a dream, be sure to go out there and fulfill it, do not wait around until it comes to you, you go and get it!

What would you have liked to know 5 years ago that you know now?
How important the age between 20-25 is. To make sure I have my career mapped out and utilize my time as much as possible and be as informed as possible to make life choices by the age of 25.

What inspired you to study your field?
I was involved in the Libyan revolution; my experience there gave me the determination to get my head around what makes a human being get to the stage that they think the only way out is to kill another human being.

What would your best friend say is your best quality?
These are the words of my best friend: “He is very caring and is always there for people, loves to help!”

Born in Darlington, Tam is a part time postgraduate student at the Department of War Studies. He studied Business Information Systems as an undergraduate in Cardiff. The picture features HMS Belfast, one of the most iconic war ships. War has always been a blight on humanity, however, by researching it we can develop our understanding of warfare and hopefully, one day, learn to effectively avoid it.

For more information about Tam’s course, please follow this link