HCRI Alumni: 10 things I learnt from writing my dissertation
Thinking about your dissertation may seem a little daunting at first, but students at HCRI always rise to the challenge to produce an original piece of research on a topic they care about.
To guide you through this process, our alumni Anna Llewellyn, Charlotte Bennemann, Jacob Graham, Moyo Bamgboye, and Anna Fraine share their best tips from doing their postgraduate dissertations, which will also be of use to your BSc dissertations. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to find out more about their dissertations.
1. Jot down your ideas
“If you take an idea from a place- write down what it means to you, or your understanding of it then directly underneath it write where it fits into your plan. So, you can say, this quote or this idea, feeds into this part of your essay.”
2. Pace your writing
“A useful piece of advice given to me was to not rush into the writing. I spent most of May and June just reading so by the time that you sit down, and you have to write you know what you’re going to say, and you can really structure it out.”
3. Make use of all your resources
“I found a professor from the University of Amsterdam who had written a book on humanitarian video games. I received a reply with lots of useful resources. So use all the resources you can and don’t feel constrained by searching within the University as there’s a whole global field of researchers.”
“I used the local church hall as a public space to invite people to focus groups. But go beyond that community. I used the snowballing technique to tell other people, who would pass me onto people they knew and be invited to the study if they were of faith or no faith. In my methodology, I talked about how there were benefits to me being from a faith-based position and the limitations of it as well.”
4. Adapt to your online environment
“If I was conducting primary research now, in the pandemic, I would still approach people via email, especially the local council and members of environmental organisations and conduct the focus groups over Zoom.”
“Initially, I was going to do the research, get the ideas and the themes derived from the study and make questionnaires based on that and invite people to do a focus group. Due to COVID-19, however, I was advised by my dissertation supervisor to answer my research question without focus groups.
If you end up adapting but still think your research could be more robust with a different methodology, it’s worth putting that in as a distinct research area too.”
5. Original dissertations don’t have to involve interviews
“I wanted to do interviews at the beginning, so my research was more practice-orientated. Due to the pandemic, however, I changed to the desk-based approach. To be original you do not have to do primary research. In my opinion, primary research is needed to get information like personal stories or information from the people that you wouldn’t get any other way. If the information is already out there, using it for secondary research would be more appropriate.”
“Originality is partly to do with your topic and partly to do with your methodology. Some of the literature is quite dated, so the fact I was producing a piece of research now meant I was contributing something new.”
6. Make use of the multidisciplinary nature of your programme
“Anything can be crucial to this course. It’s hard to think of anything that would be entirely irrelevant because of the multidisciplinary nature of what you’re studying.”
7. Go to someone who you think might be a suitable supervisor
“Even if it’s the end of December to tell them your ideas. For me, I had 10-15 ideas then had three left because it’s easier for your potential supervisor to say whether the idea had been done before or didn’t make sense.”
8. Don’t worry about research jargon
“At the beginning, words like epistemologies and ontologies made me feel completely lost and as though I couldn’t write a dissertation. But I would say not to stress about it- it will all fall into place. Talk to your supervisor, and it will be fine.”
9. Download a referencing software
“Use Mendeley or anything of that sort. I used it in my first and second semester as anything you read now helps your dissertation. Or, any material that’s inspired you that is of relevance you can add to Mendeley, including your notes on the reading.”
10. Reflect on your core modules for ideas
“My perception of humanitarianism came from my core modules, such as Disaster Governance and Disaster Management. When I was writing my HCRI module essay, I explored whether humanitarianism is inherently paternalistic. I did a section where I talked about the privilege and how it links to the produced images. So that gave me two separate streams of ideas to incorporate into my dissertation.”
Anna Llewellyn studied our MA in Humanitarianism & Conflict Response and graduated in 2020.
Dissertation title: “‘Bury me, my Love’ – Exploring Voice and Learning Through Humanitarian Video Games.”
Charlotte Bennemann studied our MSc in International Disaster Management and graduated in 2020.
Dissertation title: “The focal-systemic approach: How can a focus on vulnerability align climate change and disaster management efforts within the context of development?”
Jacob Graham studied our MSc in International Disaster Management and graduated in 2020.
Dissertation title: “The Governmentality of Vulnerability, Resilience, and Disasters: A Case Study of Wildfire Management and the Iditarod in Fairbanks, Alaska.”
Moyo Bamgboye studied our MSc in International Disaster Management and graduated in 2020.
Dissertation title: “Social media-based humanitarian communication: The case of Médecins Sans Frontières on Twitter.”
Anna Fraine studied our MA in Humanitarianism & Conflict Response and graduated in 2019.
Dissertation title: “What are the enablers and barriers to engaging in, and implementing, climate action in a UK coastal borough?”