It is around this time of year that students in their second year of the various Professional Master of Education courses launch properly into the writing and supervision processes of their 10,000-word dissertations. With many competing workload demands, it may seem difficult to dedicate the proper amount of time to this responsibility. I have given some thought to this element of the PME course and have compiled some tips in order to assist students.
My first piece of advice is: don’t put your dissertation work on the long finger. It may only be worth a relatively small percentage of the overall final grade, but it is still a qualification requirement. The various colleges have their own supervision structures for the dissertation and have been arranged in such a way that the aim is to minimise clashes with other course demands. Submit your chapters to your supervisor well on time, take his/her feedback on board and implement it immediately. It is better to make the necessary changes while the content is still fresh in your mind. Remember – a 10,000-word dissertation is not something that can be successfully put together two weeks before the submission date. Don’t let this happen to you because your final grade will most likely reflect it.
My second recommendation is to quit (or take a break from) your part-time job if you can afford to. Although the PME course is expensive and some students need to work, it is often the case that employment commitments will clash with course commitments, causing the student to miss deadlines and miss out on feedback at an appropriate time. Again, this is likely to be reflected in the final grade.
Regarding the dissertation writing itself, my third piece of advice is to read your dissertation handbook. The handbook tells you exactly what you have to do, how to structure your dissertation and how to get the most out of the process. It will tell you what is required in each chapter and will inform you of things such as what style guide (for citations, etc.) is in use and how to properly format the dissertation. It will let you know what to expect from the supervision process and how to properly engage with your supervisor.
This should go without saying, but it is extremely important to listen to what your supervisor has to say. They have been appointed as supervisors having achieved at least a Master’s level qualification subsequent to their initial training as teachers. They will have written their own dissertations which will have been far in excess of the 10,000 words which you are required to do. My point is this – they have been through this process before as a student and will understand the rigour and demands that go with it. Their advice to you will be based on experience and reflection. Ask your supervisor anything you need clarification on – there is no such thing as a stupid question. It is better to ask than to take the risk of not knowing.
Know your limits. At PME level, you are not yet considered an expert teacher so you should be extremely careful about containing elements of you in practice as a teacher while on school placement. If in any doubt, consult the module leader at proposal stage. By all means, you could research the practice of qualified teachers through interviews, questionnaires or focus groups. If you decide to pursue an M.Ed. after qualifying as a teacher, there would then be scope to examine your own practice as you would then be considered an expert.
Be critical and analytical. Your dissertation should not just be a collection of what various others have said. You must be prepared to analyse what others have said and to be critical of that content. This will separate the strong from the weak dissertations. The same goes for the data you will collect. It’s not enough to just present it, you must interpret it, critique it and discuss it alongside the existing literature.
Make sure your literature is relevant. This means you’ll need to be selective when it comes to the literature you use. Don’t just include literature because it is vaguely connected to your topic, instead look for literature that offers something that you can connect in a meaningful way to your topic. This will allow for better discussions in your literature review. If you can’t apply the literature to your topic in any meaningful way, leave it out.
Avoid plagiarism. It is a serious academic offence and is easy to detect with today’s technology. So please remember to acknowledge all of your sources through correct citations and referencing.
Proofread everything more than once. Presentation goes some way towards your grade so don’t throw away precious percentage points due to carelessness. Proofreading could be the difference between a first class honour and a second class honour. More crucially, it could be the difference between a fail and a pass.
Finally, submit your first full draft to your supervisor on time. This will give your supervisor sufficient time to review it and to compile appropriate feedback. You will then be left with enough time to implement the required changes without the stress of getting everything done at the last minute. After you submit your final draft for assessment, you can be happy in the knowledge that you gave it your best effort.
These are just some of the tips that I think will be useful as you embark on your dissertation journey. If you’d like to add to this advice, feel free to leave a comment below.