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Undertaking a Dissertation from Start to Finish: The Process and Product

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The dissertation is still seen as the pinnacle of studies for an undergraduate programme of studies in most geography, earth and environmental sciences (GEES) departments in the UK, yet how do we prepare students to undertake the work and what do students think of the experience? This paper examines the student perspective of the dissertation experience via the analysis of questionnaires issued to former students in two UK institutions. As an extension to this analysis, 32 departmental dissertation handbooks from a range of UK institutions are reviewed. Evidence from the handbooks and questionnaires reveals some of the key issues of putting theory into practice. For example, studying the right topic, student enjoyment of independent fieldwork, and establishing a good student-staff supervisory relationship are important. However, students have difficulty with time management and knowing what is expected. Based on the issues identified, a series of questions is made by way of conclusion. These questions could be used as prompts for GEES departments should they wish to review the management and assessment of the dissertation. Finally, various practical suggestions are provided as to how the student experience of independent learning might be enhanced with specific reference to the student dissertation handbook.

Keywords: Dissertation; handbooks; independent study; staff-student interaction; time management

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of Natural & Social Sciences, University of Gloucestershire, UK 2: School of Geography, Archaeology and Palaeoecology, Queen's University, Belfast, UK

Publication date: 2008-09-01

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