An often repeated phrase at university is that ‘your final year is the decisive one’. As I begin my preparations for undertaking it in September, I am able to understand the undoubted truth of this – that this final year will be the toughest yet and hopefully the most fulfilling.
Looking ahead, the project which looms largest is my dissertation which should be the showpiece of a BA; an assignment requiring deep focus upon an area of profound personal interest. Working out precisely what this area will be has been an intense preoccupation of mine over the summer so far – for the simple reason that my choice of topic now will very likely tip the balance of marks overall. The answer of course is to figure out precisely what you have been passionate about over the course of your studies and chase it; something which is easier said than done. For me personally, this has been the military culture of the Ottoman Empire – a subject which has caused many raised eyebrows among my friends. ‘It sounds interesting,’ said one, ‘but how are the Ottomans really relevant, today?’ I would be lying if I was not also worried that I was looking too far back into an area obscure even by the standards of War Studies.
Yet the consoling factor for me is that whenever I cast my mind over something to read or look back over my notes, it is always the Ottomans which I find myself returning to. Indeed, there is another factor to consider when choosing your topic – it isn’t so much whether the topic itself is linked directly to current events or career prospects but the skills you have demonstrated in completing it. To take an example, my elder sister recently graduated from the University of Edinburgh with an MA in Social History, having completed a dissertation on early modern witchcraft. In her subsequent job interviews, however, the topic of witchcraft itself was not under discussion; rather her potential employers were concerned with the details of her project planning and research methodology. The message, then, is that there really isn’t much point in worrying about how obscure and narrow your topic is – completing a 10,000-word project on that subject is the challenge and your capacity to fulfil it will be respected.
This brings me on to another, and in some ways more worrying, aspect of my final year – what will I be doing afterwards? When asked about my career plans, my usual refrain had been that I was looking to enter journalism. Now, of course, it is the time for me to ensure these plans have more substance to them. With some volunteering experience with Amnesty International and the Remain Great, Remain In campaign behind me, I am aware of the possibilities of gaining work experience in London – as well as the limitations. The competition for internships and placements is naturally fierce but the only response is to simply keep applying with an optimistic stubbornness. The experience of my fellow KCL students demonstrates that it is not impossible, by any means, to gain exciting work experience at my level.
As September draws closer, however, I am acutely conscious that what awaits me is probably the largest workload I have yet experienced. Thankfully, I know that the advantage of doing a subject that you are genuinely passionate about is that you are able to wake up every day with a desire to learn more, cheesy as that sounds.
Henry, War Studies