Your MSc Dissertation – A Rare Opportunity!

I just wanted to write a quick post about something I have been thinking about for a while that may help current library and information studies students.

When my cohorts and I were considering our dissertation topics a few people commented on how they wanted to pick something straight-forward and get it done ASAP…as long as they passed this was enough. I can totally see why they had this attitude after a 1-2 year slog with a heavy work load – particularly those with families, a full-time job and other commitments. I was lucky because although I had a full-time job I don’t have any dependants so I could spent my free time working on my research guilt free….and it was still hard going. Anyway, I just wanted to offer some advice to anyone about to embark on the dissertation  adventure.

Pick something that fascinates you or it will seem a massive chore that you will be loath to spend time on. Your research project can offer up many opportunities if you let it. Off the back of my dissertation (and with a bit of luck!) I have been invited to present three talks, I appeared on the local BBC radio show talking about my research trip, had an article written about me in a local paper and co-authored an article for a peer-reviewed journal (pending). I am in the process of writing another one and who knows what else is in store but I still have lots of ideas and ambitions for it. My dissertation is my most proudest achievement to date. I got my marks in Feb 2010 and I am still reaping the rewards. I just wanted to say this as I don’t remember these potential opportunities being promoted to me whilst I was on the course…but there really is more to it than you think. I mean, there will be limited opportunities for many people to do research like this when in a professional post due to time restraints and other pressures, so make the most of this chance now. Find something you can get your teeth into and most of all enjoy! As my long-suffering friends and family know all too well, although it was a very rewarding experience, I put blood (well maybe not blood but I did pick up a tropical illness along the way!) sweat and tears into my research and I am now going to let it work for me! It can get you published, your first conference paper, and gives you something you are really passionate about to talk about knowledgeably  in job interviews.

Best of luck all!

(disclaimer: I did warn you in my profile that I have a tendency to be overbearingly enthusiastic some times;)


33 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Katy Wrathall on July 5, 2010 at 8:37 pm

    Completely agree. My dissertation was an ‘off the wall’ choice, but luckily my personal tutor backed me all the way. It was hard work because there had been little done in that area at the time, but incredibly rewarding and worthwhile.


    • Thanks Katy, I was really lucky too. The first tutor I spoke too was pretty sceptical about my ambitions, which was completely understandable as I was struggling to narrow my topic down, but with some great encouragement from some of the other lectures I got the confidence to see it through. It also turned out that our (now course leader) had worked for a major international development agency before and I was put in touch with him and he agreed to be my supervisor (who then co-authored the article with me) he never questioned whether I could do it or not, he just had faith in me. Some times the biggest risks reap the best rewards! What was the title of yours?


  2. Posted by Katy Wrathall on July 5, 2010 at 8:56 pm

    It was actually setting up a multimedia exhibition to challenge conceptions of visual impairment in literature, everything from characterisation, authors and poets with visual impairment, dual language children’s books (Braille/print), tactile picture books etc etc. Bit over ambitious really. 🙂


  3. Wow!!!! that sounds amazing! and a really original way of approaching a dissertation. Did you ever get any of it published? I’d be interested to read about it.


  4. Well said. I have to confess that I didn’t really make the most of my findings – in what was one of the luckiest things that ever happened to be, I met my future husband 4 days after I submitted and I forgot all about my research in the months / years that follows – but I was passionately involved in my dissertation and that’s what got me through balancing a demanding research topic with a full-time job. It was what was then a dusty forgotten area of information science – citation analysis – but it has in recent years come back into fashion. If you’re canny, you’ll make sure it has an element that is attractive to employers, but the scope to do that is a lot wider than many people think. Any employer worth their salt loves a genuine enthusiastic candidate with integrity. Don’t lose your soul over your dissertation.


  5. Thanks for the comment Sarah.
    Awww…swept of your feet!? 😀 It is certainly true that being passionate about the subject helps you to get through it. Obviously there are always going to be times when you absolutely hate it! But in those moments I found that walking away and doing something silly (like hula hooping!) would help and when I came back to it, it is was never as bad as I thought and I got stuck back in again.

    I think that even the fact that you managed the dissertation amongst all other commitments can sell you to employers. These are a few skills and traits I demonstrated/acquired from mine – multi-tasking skills , time management, ambition, dedication, project management skills (which I had no experience of before!) people management (your research participants- be it individuals or orgainisations!), Using new software programmes, project evaluation skills, building and managing a database, report writing, flexibility, collaborative working….It also showed I relish a challenge…and that is just the start!


  6. Wise words.

    I chose a subject that I certainly wasn’t passionate about but that I thought would help me get a job. Big
    mistake. I dragged that dissertation out for months and hated it by the end.


  7. Posted by Lizz on July 6, 2010 at 12:31 pm

    I have to think of my dissertation topic over the next year, and I haven’t made my mind up yet. I keep thinking of topics, then going off them. I’d really like to do something that is related to my job, but can’t see many original areas for research here – we’re not all that cutting edge.

    I might look at augmented reality in libraries, but need a lot more direction than that!

    Having said that, my undergraduate dissertation was a work of love, and I got one of my better marks for it :o)


    • What area are you in Lizz?
      If you can’t find anything in your area that interest you then you can use it as an opportunity to investigate something outside of your area…something you may not otherwise have the chance to investigate. I expect you already know this but I found that reading everything I could get my hands on that was vaguely interesting to me helped as ideas can just pop into your head and grow. I also found that my subject narrowed itself down and morphed as I went along. This is probably not something I should admit to but the title was the very last thing I wrote! !


  8. Vicki, Did it help you get a job? Sarah


    • Possibly, but not a major factor. It was on Performance indicators in nursing libraries (I told you it was boring!) and I did stay in the health sector for quite a while.


  9. what was it on Vicki? (If you can bear to tell us!)


  10. Thanks for this Jo, your enthusiasm is helping to give me the kick I need to finish my “set” assignments and get onto the dissertation part!


  11. I agree with Jo that serendipity is a valuable tool in the quest for the perfect dissertation. Set your mind free and absorb as much material as possible. Mind-mapping can help.


  12. Posted by Lizz on July 6, 2010 at 12:49 pm

    Electronic Resources.

    I do read a lot around the subject, which means that every time I have an idea I find several articles have already been written on it. Not to mention the lanscape changes very rapidly – what seemed to be a good idea a couple of years ago now seems very dated.

    I did think about doing something about measuring usage of resources (because I get very excited about statistics), such as trends in measuring usage from print to electronic, but I can see already this would a) be very dry, and b) be of almost no use to anyone.


    • I would make every effort to capitalise on a passion for statistics. Seriously.


      • Posted by Lizz on July 6, 2010 at 12:57 pm

        I’m not mathematical enough to do them justice, to be quite honest – all I could do is survey others efforts. I think that’s what’s putting me off that topic.

    • Even if it has been done there are often new angles you can get from it, new approaches, even re-doing the project in different times comparing and contrasting can be fascinating sometimes.
      As for the statistics…now that would be a massive challenge for me as I definitely have qualitative leanings….but ditto what Sarah said – grab the statistic excitement! Now is the time to improve those skills.
      I also found that the best contacts and ideas came from talking. I talked to EVERYONE about my research (whether the wanted to hear it or not) and as a result i got some really great feedback and ideas. It enabled me to see things I would not have done otherwise. I also emailed people in organizations that I thought might be able to help and advise. What was important to them? If they had someone to conduct one piece of research for them what would it be on?…often I got no response but sometimes I did. Networking! If you don’t ask…


      • Posted by Lizz on July 6, 2010 at 1:17 pm

        I can certainly feel a literature search coming on – I’ve seen lots of articles about collecting statistics (it’s usually what I need to know) but I haven’t looked for impact/use of statistics.

        I think I will have to start formulating my ideas, and I like your idea of talking to people about it – already this morning I am feeling enthused about the topic again! 😀

  13. Lizz, I think there is potential huge value in examining statistics from a non-mathematical viewpoint, looking at the value to the library service as a whole.


    • Posted by Lizz on July 6, 2010 at 1:15 pm

      What fascinates me is that over the last ten – fifteen years, measuring usage of journals has suddenly become possible (when they are reference only, which many print journal collections are, how do you know what is being used?). Obviously the information can feed into decision making processes, but there’s lots of issues around quality of data, whether it actually means anything, and whether people actually use the information (particularly at the macro level, rather than individual title level). With books, you can now measure usage down to chapter level (is this book going out 100 times but only for a small portion, or is it useful in its entirety?) but all the different providers have different interfaces/models so it’s still hard to compare.

      Are statistics really improving decision making? Or are we just able to justify decisions more easily. How do you measure the value of an item? And are decisions really being made on flawed logic based on statistics as a certain publisher has claimed? Lots of questions to answer, but I don’t know if anyone else really cares.


      • I do! and anyone involved in collection development would care. It would be hugely useful….but who has the time to do this study? you! Speak to people who rely on these statistics to make their decisions etc It is known that statistics can say anything a person wants them to say…there is already scope for your research there.

        glad you feel re-enthused about it. Let us know how you get on 🙂

    • and another selling point to employers…loads of us are scared of statistics….you wont be! 🙂


  14. At UKSG this year, Hugh Look blew me away
    [no slides but see this blog
    with a great critique of an over-statistical approach, suggesting that we no longer trust our own judgement being over-reliant on quantitative data. It really changed my thinking and a fresh look at the value of statistics in libraries / publishing seems valuable to me.


    • Posted by Lizz on July 6, 2010 at 1:26 pm

      Thanks Sarah – that’s really helpful 🙂 I am now seriously considering this topic – I didn’t realised so many people were interested!


    • Oh, oh! see, the power of talking… never know what gems people have tucked away! May be worth getting in touch with him Lizz?!


      • Posted by Lizz on July 6, 2010 at 1:37 pm

        Yes, I did meet him at a course once. I think my first step will be a literature search – make sure I’m not reinventing the wheel 🙂 Plus I’m not actually due to start my project until this time next year, so I probably don’t want people to be bored of me by the time I start! 😀

  15. never too soon to let people know your interests and who you are. He might be able to point you to some relevant literature and save you some time. He may also think of you if anything comes up in the future. This time next year you will be ready to go! and there is no harm in sending a follow up email.


    • Posted by Lizz on July 6, 2010 at 2:06 pm

      Maybe – I’ve found one article roughly on the topic, but it’s about 8 years old, and isn’t a systematic survey. I’ve got a module in Research methods at the beginning of 2011, I think that will be a good time to start making the personal contacts, as I will have a clearer idea of the exact requirements for my course.


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