Dissertation Diaries: Summer

I’ve decided to do a new monthly series on my blog all about dissertations. It is a very daunting project and I hope that by talking through what I’ve been doing and what has been working for me I can give you some peace of mind that it doesn’t have to be that scary. If you’re planning on doing a dissertation at a some point in the future hopefully you can learn from my tips and my mistakes. Also, from doing this it will motivate me to keep up with the work! In this post I’m going to discuss what I’ve done so far over the summer and after that I plan to do monthly updates.

So, a little background, I study history. Your dissertation will most likely be different dependant on your subject and your university but I feel there will be similarities in the planning and writing process. We use primary and secondary source material for the analysis and evidence, I know some people will be required to do questionnaires or to collect data instead so just bare this in mind.

First of all, I was required by my university to submit a dissertation outline at the end of second year. This was very much my starting point; it required me to find sources, explain what I wanted to research and break down what would be discussed in each of the chapters. This was actually very useful so I’d recommend even if this isn’t required by your university you just write up your initial aims and what will be included.

I’ve done a large proportion of my primary and secondary reading and picked out key bits of text from these to put in a word document. I printed out this word document and colour-coded the information to correlate with the chapter they were most relevant to so I could use them as a starting point. There are of course materials that aren’t available online so I have made a note of these to find in the library when I return to Reading. Because of this, I know there are gaps in my reading that I will be able to fill when I have all the resources.

I wrote up an in-depth plan of my introduction, this has highlighted the gaps to me and so I know where I need to do a bit more research. I was told that the introduction should be the first thing you start and the last thing you finish so I’m not too worried about the gaps and am prepared to change things up as I go.

I wrote up my plan by hand so I have written up a first draft of my introduction on my computer. Not only has this given me a sense that I’m getting somewhere as I have started working on the actual essay, its given me an idea of just how much I’ve written towards my word count so far.

  • My goals for the month ahead:
  • do reading to help fill in the gaps
  • do an in depth plan for chapter 1
  • begin writing up a first draft of chapter 1

Book Review: Normal People by Sally Rooney

Rating: 4 out of 5.

What is it about? The story follows two people from very opposite worlds. Marianne is from a privileged background but has a difficult home life and is quite the outcast at school. On the other hand, Connell thrives socially at school and is very close with his mother who works for Marianne’s mother. Things change completely when they go off to university.

What did I think? I did really enjoy this story however after hearing so much about it the expectations were extremely high and it didn’t quite meet them. I found it difficult to get used to the voice used, there was a lack of punctuation which I didn’t immediately take to. I enjoyed the relationship between Connell and Marianne, it was interesting to see how they were such different people but their lives intersected so much and seemed to go together so well. It was nice to see how they grew through the book, both together and separately; Rooney deals with such subjects as eating disorders, abusive relationships and depression. The way she dealt with mental illness in them both was important especially with Connell as so often male issues in this context are ignored. As the title suggests they were just two normal people going through life, it was quite refreshing to just see them with no added gimmicks. So much of what they went through would be relatable to different people in different ways and I just really liked that about the book.

Would I recommend? yes I would. However, I recommend going into the book with an open mind. So many people hyped it up that I feel like no matter what it would never have lived up to the expectations I had. It was enjoyable but there are other books less well known that were just as good if not better.

What will I be reviewing next? Women Don’t Owe You Pretty by Florence Given

Where does the money come from?

There is a stereotype of students as being broke, I suppose this works to our advantage as so many places do offer student discount because of this. It can be scary though, knowing for the next three or four years you’re going to have to deal with this trope. This may be the first time you’ve ever been financially independent to this extent and if you’re worried about budgeting I have a past blog post you can check out. This post will focus on where you can get money from when you’re at university.

Student loan: This is the big one and there are two parts of this you can apply for. The first part is your tuition fee which will be paid straight to the university and this will cover the fees that the university charge you. This will usually be the full amount but if you go to a private university you may have to contribute extra yourself. The second part is the money you will actually see, this is the maintenance loan. With Student Finance England the amount you receive is dependent on your parents income which can be problematic for some people but as you will see there are other ways of getting money while at university. All the information about paying this back is on the Student Finance website so you can check that out if you are unsure on anything. However, this is definitely the best type of loan to take out when you are a student as the repayment is more like a tax as opposed to how you’d pay back a regular loan. Also note that I have only used Student Finance England and I know it is slightly different in the other countries of Great Britain but all the information you will need can be found on the government’s website. One last thing to say on this, if you are going to university this year and haven’t applied yet, you need to do this ASAP as it takes time to process.

Bursaries: you can check to see if can you apply for any bursaries either through your university or a third party corporation. These are different to a loan as they are basically free money, they don’t have to be paid back. The only thing is that you have to qualify for these and there are different types of bursaries for people with different needs.

Part-time job: If you are worried about how to juggle a job while at university, don’t worry I have a blog post for that. For some people this will be a necessity and as someone who has worked while I’ve been studying it definitely is possible, it may just require a bit more organisation. The best thing about this is you can work the hours to suit how much money you need (within reason, you still need time for your studies) so this is a great form of income if your loan isn’t enough to cover everything. It also gives you that sense of independence, that money you are spending you have earned yourself.

Savings: This is something to plan ahead but if you know you want to go to university in a few years perhaps start putting some money away for it now. It doesn’t have to be a lot, it could just be a portion of pocket money or wages from a part-time job. It just means you have that added security of a bit of extra cash.

Speak to parents and guardians: The idea with student finance is that if you get a small loan your parents will make up for it. This is of course not possible for everyone but if you are worried about the amount of money you have coming in, speak to your parents and see if you can come to some sort of arrangement.

Student bank account with an interest-free overdraft: Most banks will offer a student bank account so its best to look through these and see which one has the best perks or will suit your needs best. A good thing about these bank accounts is that the overdraft is usually interest-free while you’re a student. Do be careful with these though as often you will begin to be charged interest on any debt you occurred as a student once you graduate, make sure you always read the fine print. It can be a good idea if you need a bit of extra money to tide you over until the next time you have some money coming in.

Living alone for the first time

If you’re moving away to university, this may be the first time you’ve ever lived alone. Though the idea of being completely independent can be exciting, it can also be very daunting. I hope this post will give you some peace of mind with your worries and gives some top tips of how to settle in well.

The big thing to remember is that some people will take longer to get used to the new way of living than others which is okay. Please don’t beat yourself up if you feel like it’s taking you more time to get settled. This is a big step in your life and often new things and big changes can be more of a struggle for some individuals. Not only this, but there will be others who are struggling that can hide it so well. If you feel like you’re looking at others like ‘I wish I could deal with change like that’, they may be feeling exactly the same as you. You can always share your thoughts with others and maybe they will relate and you can get through it together.

Not everything will come naturally when you first start out; whether that’s cooking or laundry or just a bit of everything. Everyone will be having struggles and the best thing to do is to help each other out, it’s also a great way to bond with your new found friends. There is always the option of just calling home, which I did a lot in my first year. I had so many random questions especially about cooking.

Home sickness is a thing. I’ll be honest I was so caught up in university life that I didn’t feel this at all until a few weeks in. If you feel this way, call your family, FaceTime your friends. Especially if all your home friends have moved away to their own university they may need that reassurance from you too but do remember they’ll be doing their own thing. Remember different people will settle in, in different ways so be patient with them if they are getting more involved at university. Find times you are both free and have a good catch up then.

Don’t stretch yourself too much. Don’t put pressure on yourself to do everything at once if that’s too much for you. If settling in means you live off oven food and beans on toast for the first few weeks, you do you while you’re getting yourself sorted. As you get used to the new way of life you can step things up and learn new things as you go.

No matter what be proud of yourself, it’s a very big step. Not only are you suddenly living on your own, you’re in a new city and you’re having to get used to the university lifestyle.

Book review: The Green Mile by Stephen King

Rating: 5 out of 5.

What is it about? John Coffey is a black man is in prison for the murder of two young girls. Head guard, Paul Edgecomb, recalls his time working on death row and how he met John and discovered he has an incredible secret.

What did I think? I loved this book, it was such a captivating story and really messes with your viewpoint of the men who have committed such serious crimes. King’s characters were all completely different people and the characterisations really stuck with you. You knew who you were meant to be rooting for and this wasn’t alway the guards over the prisoners. Interestingly, he portrays some of the inmates as men rather than the inhumane monsters you’d expect them to be, he makes you forget the awful things they’ve done to a point you almost feel sympathy to these men in their last moments. There were also those who were just the stereotype of what you’d expect from a murder and I really felt the comparison was a great aspect of the novel. There was also one guard, Percy, who was just an awful human being, this was an interesting choice as at times he was acting worse than some of the inmates. The fact that the story was being written by Paul when he was in an old people’s nursing home allows for the comparison, that there will always be the same types of people in the world no matter what point of life you are at. One of the aspects that stood out to me was that he would speak in great detail about seemingly random things which would later be important to the story. It made you question where things would go. As the book went on, it only got more exciting and the supernatural nature I enjoyed because everything else was just so normal. The fact that the story focused around death row and the inmates being executed through the electric chair also bring up the conversation of how ethical it was. At times Paul would question whether it made him a murderer the fact that he was behind the deaths of the men who walked the green mile.

Would I recommend? Yes, it was an amazing story. Even if you aren’t into supernatural stories you should still give this a go as the story surrounding it was really touching. It made me question things which I always love when a book does this.

What will I be reviewing next? Normal People by Salley Rooney.

Taking time for yourself

University can be a very overwhelming place and you may feel pressure to be socialising or working every moment of every day. I want you to think to yourself, when was the last time you had a day off? On top of that, when was the last time you took a day for yourself with no worry or guilt?

I often find myself allowing myself time off but I have to get back to it the next day or I can have the afternoon off if I work in the morning. You shouldn’t need to have this sense of ‘deserving’ a break, if you feel you need one, have one. Personally, I’ve been really enjoying taking time for myself lately. Yes, I love meeting up with people and I’ve been doing uni work to prepare myself for third year but I want to get into a habit of enjoying my own company. It doesn’t have to be anything big, I read about people ‘taking themselves on a date’ and just sitting alone in a restaurant with no phone or laptop but I feel that’s a very daunting prospect for me. Maybe I’ll get there one day. For now, I like to take myself on a walk or just go shopping alone (I’m loving charity shops at the moment as they’re both sustainable and cheap which is helpful on a student budget). It’s so good to just be with yourself, it gives you a chance to think things through while getting some fresh air. I find that if I try to reflect on things before bed, which I often find is the only real chance I give myself, it’s not the best time to do so. Just going and doing something more randomly, I feel calms me. Plus, if I ever have a day where I wake up feeling like I really don’t want to do anything, going for a walk can set me up nicely for the rest of the day.

As with so many things, it’s all about finding the right balance for you. Maybe you prefer to plan when you’ll take a rest day so you can get all your work done around it. You may however, like me, prefer to just take them when you feel like you need one on the day. You can just move any work you had planned that day to another. Uni can be a stressful place so you need to look after yourself. Of course, if you feel like you are really suffering with mental health it’s a good idea to reach out for professional help which you should be able to get advice on through your uni. I am no expert on this and I’m not saying taking alone time will make everything better, its just something I find helps me. Remember, while people may make it seem you need to be constantly doing something productive at uni, it’s okay to take time for yourself.

What to pack for university: Miscallaneous

I’ve spoken through the main things that you will need to take to university for different categories; the bedroom, kitchen and stationary. There are a few bits that don’t however fit into those categories and so this last post in the series will feature more miscellaneous things you’ll want to remember.

Laundry: you’ll want to take a laundry basket to keep your room tidy and so that you can easily differentiate between what’s clean and what needs to be washed. Its also important to remember, you will have to transport your laundry to and from the laundry room and so you’ll want something sturdy to carry it in as it may be a bit of a walk. If you don’t want to pay the price to use the dryer you’ll probably want an airer to dry your clothes. Personally, I’d use the dryer for big items like bedding and blankets and would use the airer for my clothes. On top of all that you will want laundry detergent to keep your clothes clean.

Mini First Aid Kit: you never know when you’ll need a plaster or some paracetamol so make sure you take a supply. Just take the bits you’d reach for at home so that you have them there for when you need them at university.

Food: this may seem a bit obvious but I’d recommend doing a food shop before you arrive so that you have your fridge and cupboards stocked for the first week or so. You’ll most likely be swept up in the social side when you first arrive and you probably won’t have time to go to the shop. You’ll also have to work out where it is, so having food gives you a bit of time to settle in before you have to start worrying about that.

Important documents: you’ll want to make sure you remember any official documents, if you have anything you need for enrolment or student finance take it with you. You might not need this as a lot of things are online now but it’s always best to be on the safe side. Also, your passport. Especially, if you plan to get a job you will need your passport (or documentation that proves you are able to work in GB), I left mine at home in first year and had to have my parents post it to me. Not only was this annoying as I had to wait for this to arrive, I had to pay for special delivery as it was such an important document.

Edinburgh on a student budget

Edinburgh is the perfect destination if you are looking for somewhere to travel in the UK. I went at Christmas and it was magical, there was so much to do and we had such a lovely time. Read on to see what my top picks of things to do are!

Christmas Markets: these of course only run at Christmas so not really an option for if you go any other time of the year. If you do go at Christmas, however, the markets really are a must. They usually run from mid-November to early January but you’ll be able to check online for exact dates each year. We got some really pretty pictures and good food while we were there. Things are a bit more expensive so if you plan to go I’d put aside a bit extra but the crepes were amazing. I’d definitely recommend going in the week, we tried both, went in the week and at the weekend and it was a completely different experience. It was packed at the weekend but in the week it was quiet, we could move around easily and there wasn’t really much queuing.

Mary King’s Close: If you’re into history, this is a really interesting guided tour. You are able to explore the old streets of Edinburgh situated under the Royal Mile. It is enclosed as you are underground so do consider this if this is something you struggle with. A student ticket is just £15.95 and the tour lasts approximately an hour.

Edinburgh Castle: we went and had a look at the castle though didn’t go inside (we had other things we wanted to fit in while we were there). Though if you do wish to venture inside it will cost you £15.50. We were able to take some really nice photos outside and because its on elevated ground there were some lovely views of the rest of Edinburgh.

Camera Obscura: This was so much fun it was full of really fun optical illusions. Not only this but it the balcony made for a really good view of the castle below. Students pay only £13.05 for entry and it was definitely worth it for the laughs we had. Plus, it was inside which is great when you consider the weather in Edinburgh isn’t always great.

The Royal Mile: we actually stayed in a hostel just off the royal mile which put us in prime position for many things. I would recommend taking a walk down the Royal Mile as it features many shops and cafes, many of which are independent and is just really pretty to look at. We ate out a few times and it was so lovely to try out the different cafes.

Book review: A stranger on the beach by Michele Campbell

Rating: 3 out of 5.

What is the book about? forty two year-old Caroline believed her husband is having an affair and so ends up having a one night stand with a much younger man, Aiden. After this, he becomes obsessed, stalks her and becomes infatuated with her and her family. But is everything as it seems? Can we believe everything Aiden or Caroline says?

What did I think? The voice confused me so much at first, in fact I probably wouldn’t have realised that I was reading it wrong had someone not mentioned it in the book club I was reading with. It is written so that some chapters are from the point of view of Aiden while some are from Caroline’s. This means they often recount the same events but have a different outlook on what actually happens which I didn’t realise at first and was thinking I thought that happened or when was there time for that to happen. Once I understood, it was much easier to read. The novel was gripping and I really did want to keep reading to find out what had happened and who was lying. The characters were however, all unlikable so I wasn’t rooting for anyone in particular. I wanted to know what happened but I didn’t really have a preference as I often do with these types of books. I feel the main reason I read on was because I was hooked on finding out the conclusion.

Would I recommend? If you’re looking for a thriller there are many that I did prefer to this one. Personally, this one wasn’t a favourite but I got through it.

Got your results, now what?

A little throwback; me two years ago after I had my results before I headed off to uni.

The first thing I should say is congratulations! You did it, you got through your A-levels and for that you should be extremely proud. Even if you didn’t get the results you were hoping for, you should still feel proud of such a great achievement to have got to this point. If you need it just take some time to come to terms with what happened yesterday. You may feel inundated with people asking about your results and your future plans, just remember this is personal to you and you really don’t have to discuss what has happened with people. It may be a good idea to talk through your emotions and thoughts with someone you really trust to just get it out there or even try writing it down in a journal if you want to get it out privately.

If you’re off to university, you have so many exciting things ahead. As a student blog, I am going to be discussing university as that’s what I know best. Remember you do still have a good month until term starts at university so even though you can begin to make preparations, you do have time.

The big thing you need to do if you don’t plan on living at home, is sorting out your accommodation, if you haven’t done so already. This is often first come first serve so you really need to get that sorted as a number one priority! Once this is all done you can go on Facebook as they usually have groups you can join to meet people in your accommodation or even your flat. It might seem random but I’d definitely recommend getting Facebook if you’re off to university and haven’t got it already. It’s really useful as so many things at university are advertised on Facebook; info for halls, info on societies, course group chats and club pictures to name just a few.

You have so much to look forward to so spend this time with friends and families. Make the most of the summer before you go. Celebrate your success and have fun!