Dissertation…

Now, soon-to-be-third-years, I know what you’re thinking – ‘it’s the summer break, I’ve got ages to think about/plan/write my dissertation!’ – and yes, you’re right. You should be enjoying your summer – reading things you want to read, binge watching TV shows, catching up with your friends at home, or getting ahead with your third year reading list. By all means do those things. But don’t rest on your laurels – dissertation will come around sooner than you think!

Of course it’s a big project, but you’d be surprised how quickly you’ll run out of words when you start writing about something you care about enough to spend months researching, planning, writing, rewriting, proofreading, rewriting again, cutting, and redrafting. I know I’m probably making this sound terrifying, but dissertations are actually kind of fun in a strange way, and seeing them all bound and looking official is extremely rewarding.

So, what can you do to make the process of writing a dissertation easier? Here are a few things I learnt while writing my dissertation.

Disso

1. Don’t leave it until the last minute. April will come around extraordinarily quickly – you might think first and second year went quickly, but third year is on a completely different level, it will go in a flash. It’s best to at least start thinking about what kind of area you’re interested in now, or if you know what you want to write about, start jotting down ideas, find yourself some secondary sources, verbalise your ideas to others.

2. Verbalise your ideas to others. Sometimes you’ll have a brilliant idea for your project, but you won’t realise how half-formed it is until you say out loud what the idea is. This is where others come in, they can ask questions, highlight potential flaws and offer some advice. You’ll end up with a stronger project if you include at least one other person. This is of course where your academic advisor comes in handy, but discuss the idea with your peers as well, it’s so easy to get wrapped up in what you’re doing and not notice the pitfalls. In my project, there were glaring continuity errors that I hadn’t noticed until someone pointed it out.

3. With that in mind, don’t take criticism personally. It’s easy to take criticism personally. Especially with creative projects because you made them, you created them, and when someone comes along and tells you it’s not actually perfect it’s easy to feel upset. It’s okay to feel upset, but realise that they’re your friend and they care about you, they want you to do your best and they’re not being nit-picky for the sake of it. Utilise their feedback, and offer them feedback too. As much as it’s a solo project, you’ve come this far together, and this is the time that you’re all going to need support the most.

4. With regards to suggestions, you might not agree with some of the advice you get from some people. This isn’t a time to get defensive, but rather say ‘I don’t really know if that will work, I know it might seem out of place/weird/not quite cohesive now, but I plan for such and such to happen later on.’ This is another way of developing and discussing your ideas with people, and it’s this kind of thing that you can write in the accompanying essay. ‘It was suggested that I alter this bit, however I felt that…’

5. The plan you submit in October is important. I know – 5% seems like nothing, and October might seem a bit soon to be telling people your intentions for something that isn’t due for six months. Let me break it down for you though. If you submit the plan, you get A* for that section. If you don’t submit a plan, you get a big fat 0. When my grade came through, it was at the high end of the boundary. When all the components were added together, the A* that I got just for handing in my plan pushed my whole grade into the next level. Also, what you hand in in April doesn’t even have to resemble what you wrote in your plan. If you say you want to write a story about squirrels and use Winnie the Pooh and Toy Story as your inspirations, no-one will bat an eyelid if you submit a short story of half a film about murderers, using Fatal Attraction and Clockwork Orange as your sources. (But don’t they sound like fun projects?) Basically, JUST SUBMIT THE PLAN. It could be the difference between a low 2:1 and a high 2:1, or a high 2:1 and a 1st.

Plan A

6. As I said above, you’re free to change direction. We’re creative writers, and we can’t be tamed or held to down to one idea. I was lucky enough to change my idea in September but even then, the central idea of the film I wrote changed beyond recognition. Two of my friends got to January and had a sudden epiphany that their new idea was better for them. That being said, if you get a new idea in March, you might want to weigh up the pros and cons of starting this new project. Do you think this is better than your existing project because it’s new or because it’s actually stronger? Is it worth turning your back on everything you’ve already done? Have you lost interest in your project because you’ve been working on it for so long, or has the story actually run its course? One of my other friends changed his idea in March and got a very good result. You have to know yourself. I can only liken dissertations to relationships – if you’re not happy, get the hell out!

7. Ask for help if you need to. Help can come in many forms, if there’s a bit you’re not sure of, ask someone to read over it. The worst they can say is ‘I don’t think it works’ which is what you thought anyway. Also, that’s what your academic advisor is there for, you’re not bothering them by asking them for pointers and advice and your project will be stronger for the advice of others.

8. Make sure you give yourself enough time to proofread and redraft/edit. That’s pretty self explanatory. As Earnest Hemingway said – ‘The first draft of anything is shit’. I agree, and when you proofread your dissertation, it’s not a twenty minute thing. Really proofread it. Read it out loud, you might feel stupid but it’s one of the best ways to spot typing errors or general mistakes. I’m the worst for writing stuff like ‘of’ instead of ‘if’, ‘the’ instead of ‘there’ and I once wrote Beyoncé instead of Beyond (it had been a long day). Check it, check it, check it. Edit it, then check it again. This is important.

9. Your supporting essay is just as important as your project, give it time and attention. It’s the only place where you can explain some of your choices and justify leaving that line in, or giving that character that trait/task/death etc.. Make sure you justify all your choices, include research you’ve done, discuss things you learned, talk about things you’ve changed, consider what professionals in the field have said about your genre/craft etc.. Make sure your referencing is on point. Also to add to the points you make in the essay, include things in the appendix to show your development, research and maybe visual clues about characters or locations. My appendix was slightly bigger than my whole project. (Sorry Max Kinnings.)

10. Don’t leave it until the last minute. I know I said this already, but I’m serious. Sometimes, as students, we get distracted and end up staying up late into the night, sometimes all night to finish/write an essay for a module which is 2,000 words. Let’s be honest with ourselves here – that’s not the best method for those essays, and it’s hard and tiring and frustrating. Do you want to be doing that with something five times the length? What if you get writer’s block?

11. One of the best ways to make sure you get things done in more manageable chunks is to set aside one morning/ afternoon/ evening/ day/ night/ whatever time frame you work best on a week, go to the library with your friends and do some of your project. Be it looking online for information about the best murder techniques, finding books about infectious diseases or watching episodes of Dora the Explorer on YouTube to help form your ideas. Even if you’re only there for an hour and a half with a twenty minute sandwich break in between, It’ll be far more constructive than spending three whole days stressing out over it every couple of weeks. The best way to motivate yourself to do work is to show yourself that you’ve done some work.

12. Finally, enjoy it. It’s something you can really get your teeth into, show what you’re passionate about, and really show where your strengths lie. Then when it’s done, have a big drink/ dance/ pizza. Just celebrate.

success

Best of luck, and enjoy your final year at university!

Things They Don’t Tell You About Graduation

With Brunel’s graduation week having just passed, it seems the perfect time to share some insight which I gained during my own ceremony, which I had very little idea about before the actual day.

graduation

1. It’s a pretty long day but it will go in a flash! Don’t forget to bring a camera, and make sure you take all the photos you possibly can. Especially don’t forget to have a photo with Isambard Kingdom Brunel himself – it’s a staple part of leaving Brunel.

2. You’ll feel pride like you’ve never felt. That’s pride in yourself, in your classmates, in the school that you’ve been a part of, and in the university as a whole.

3. You’ll feel in awe of the people graduating their Master’s degrees, and those receiving their PhD, you may even feel inspired to go on to postgraduate study. (Don’t forget Brunel students receive a discounted fee if they further their study at Brunel)

4. You’ll be standing and walking more than they let on, so wear comfortable shoes. Or wear really impressive ones and carry a spare pair in your bag.

5. Wear waterproof make-up! Even if you don’t cry, you’ll get hot in the robes and some of your make-up will do its best to escape.

6. The complimentary drinks aren’t bad at all!

7. Even if your entire family can’t make it, they will be proud of you and you’ll probably feel so much love from them in the lead up to your graduation (and afterwards) that it will be like they were there all along.

8. Try to eat breakfast. It’s easy to forget or just decide not to if you have a morning graduation as you’re expected to register and collect your gown between 8:30 and 9:30, so the morning is a rush. The ceremony goes on until about 12 o’clock though, so at least make sure you’re hydrated. The robes are hot, you’re probably wearing warmer clothes than you typically would be on a hot day and there are a lot of people in the room. Having something in your stomach is going to be better than sitting there very hungry and possibly even light-headed.

9. I was extremely happy that we had to walk up and down a slope instead of steps to shake hands with the officials, but in the event that you do have to walk up steps, I refer you back to point 4 for the shoe warning.

10. The certificate you’re given is in a folder and isn’t rolled into a scroll. The scrolls are fake and only for photographic purposes.

11. Finally, just enjoy the day. There will be a lot of rushing around, it will be stressful at times and it’s easy to let that affect your mood. Take a deep breath – get your robes, take some photos, laugh at what you all look like wearing the mortar boards, and then realise you’re all actually pulling it off quite well. Get your tickets, meet your guests, take more photos and enjoy it. As I mentioned in point 1 it goes in a flash, enjoy every moment of your success, and the success of those around you.

Credit: Brunel University Facebook Page

Credit: Brunel University Facebook Page

Huge congratulations to the Class of 2014, may your lives be richer for knowing each other, and may your future be as rewarding and as beautiful as you want them to be. Best of luck with whatever comes next.

Screenwriting Competition!

Entries for the 2015 BlueCat Screenwriting Competition are now being accepted from all over the world. Prize money for the winner is a staggering $10,000, while three finalists will each be awarded a cash prize of $1,500.

All entries will receive written feedback on their scripts. Scripts submitted by the first of September will receive feedback by the 1st of October.

Short films must be between 5 and 40 pages and cost $40 to submit, while feature length scripts cost $60. Students are eligible for a discounted short film submission price of $35.

Check out interviews with 2014’s Winner Jennifer Cui, and finalists Jeremy Lerman, Athenia Paris Mekarnia, and Wenonah Wilms

For submission information, click here.

Recent achievements by BlueCat Alumni include:

  • Aaron Guzikowski’s #1 Film “Prisoners,” starring Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Melissa Leo, was released in September 2013. He is also the creator of “The Red Road,” a Sundance Channel original series.
  • Young Il Kim’s script, “Rodham,” a 2012 Blacklist Script, recently attached director James Ponsoldt (“The Spectacular Now”). Young recently won the 2013 Alfred P. Sloan Commissioning Grant from Sundance, where he will write a biopic on Stephen Hawking.
  • Ana Lily Amipour’s debut feature, “A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night,” premiered at 2014 Sundance.
  • Ashleigh Powell sold her script, “SomaCell,” to Warner Brothers, with David Goyer attached to produce.

 

Special thanks to Claudia Summerfield for this information.

Guest Blogger: Martha Salhotra – DEVISE

Hi everyone, I’m Martha, a soon-to-be third year undergraduate studying English at Brunel.

A few weeks ago, I started up a blog on WordPress in the hopes of creating a magazine-style website which showcased the work of young, aspiring writers and journalists. Interestingly, I was initially inspired to start this up after my time managing the @BrunelWriter Twitter feed, where I discovered the importance of students needing a chance to write for competitions, magazines and websites and so have something to showcase to potential employers as evidence of their writing apart from personal blogs or university work.

Devise

As an aspiring writer/journalist myself, I had learned how vital is was that I wrote for other platforms and had evidence of engaging with different companies through the written word – so I set out to create a similar kind of platform for other students of a similar age and below who were also seeking such opportunities, giving them the chance to feel part of a new community of like-minded aspiring writers and journalists.

I named the website Devise – I know, it’s not very original – but the word ‘devise’ brought to mind images of planning, thinking and creating, and this is the kind of ethos I wanted the website to take on. The concept of Devise is quite simple: we’re giving our voluntary and unpaid writers the chance to both write articles for us but also, better their writing while doing so. In return for our writers’ weekly contributions, myself and our Senior Editor Simran proof-read, edit and then provide feedback on their articles, suggesting room for improvement and helping them to get new and exciting ideas for their articles on the website. We aim to help these young people with their writing as they progress through their studies and strive to become professional writers or journalists in the future.

Although the website was initially aimed at young people – so those aged perhaps 20 and below – we’ve now taken on a few writers who have graduated from university and are in fact, full-time professionals. For example, two of our writers are graduates who work in PR and another two are graduates working with other magazines. This has proved the success of Devise as a website that appeals not just to students, but other keen writers who simply wish to contribute articles and help us grow. The mix of writers at Devise is fantastic, and although we are still targeting young people, we take on board those who simply wish to engage in their passion for writing.

The sections Devise currently has on the site include arts and culture, lifestyle, entertainment, fashion and beauty, sports, travel, food and reviews – and we expect the sections to grow as we take on new writers. We are always on the lookout for writers and with 16 writers currently contributing articles to the website, our team of editors is set to increase too.

Devise started off with small-scale intentions but is now developing into something amazing. If you are reading this and wish to gain writing experience on a voluntary, unpaid basis, feel you would benefit from getting writing experience and feedback on your writing or simply want to get involved as a writer, then email us at deviseblog@yahoo.co.uk. We also have a Twitter account that you can follow for updates and new articles: @DeviseBlog.

Lastly, please take some time to visit the website and read a few of the articles written by our outstanding writers. Remember, if you see yourself as a Devise writer, then get in touch!

http://www.deviseblog.wordpress.com