As some of you may know, I am currently a student at The University of Manchester. I am doing my masters in Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship, and for my program, I am about to enter the ‘dissertation period’, or the graduate project period. And if you’ve ever written a dissertation, you would understand the reason why I am extremely stressed at the moment.
If you’re unfamiliar to what is a dissertation (also known as a thesis), it is basically a research project on a specific (chosen) topic or question. It is mostly aimed to further improve and develop your knowledge on a subject in your major/degree. If anyone is interested, I could write a separate post explaining how I picked my program, how I picked my dissertation topic, and what and why I picked the topic.
Furthermore, it is a highly stressful period as mentioned previously. My dissertation period start from May 2019 to August 2019, an entire four months filled with researching and writing one big piece of paper. I’ve never solely worked on anything this big yet, so I don’t as much experience on how to approach such projects, but I will share how I’m planning to approach it.
Whether you are starting your dissertation period soon, or will experience this period in the near or far future, here are some tips on how I am planning to destress myself during this period:-
- Don’t be too hard on yourself~ Setting realistic expectations.
When I selected my research topic, I had high expectations in knowing exactly what I wanted to research and the outcomes I expected. But I quickly started to realize that life doesn’t work like that even with uni work. Currently, I could barely find enough secondary information on my topic, which means I will have to do my own primary data collection (which consists of interviewing people and companies, if they even give me the opportunity to). Therefore, I had to learn how to adapt and change my expectations along the way, forcing me to alter my topic as well. At the beginning this really upset me, but again, I had to learn how to set realistic expectations that I could actually accomplish and be proud of.
So, whether you’re working on a project or generally setting expectations for yourself, just be kind to yourself in setting something reachable and accomplishable, and be open-minded in accepting any changes that needs to happen.
- Me time is key.
You define what ‘Me Time’ is for you, whether it’s a walk outdoor, a well deserved nap, watching a full movie, reading a book, or even going to the gym. We all have something we enjoy doing that has a way to calm us down. And if you don’t yet know your ‘Me Time’, it is ok, just experiment with different activities and see which has the most effect in calming you down. It is crucial to take a break, especially when/if you’re working on one project for a long time, your mind needs a break and a refresher to work efficiently and effectively.
For me, I go back and forth between two ‘Me Time’ activities. I would either put on a face mask, have a bubble (or bath bomb) bath, and put on a good Netflix show or YouTube video on. Or I would still put on either a Netflix show or YouTube video on, and order some comfort food and just relax and take my mind off the real world temporarily.
- Family & Friends.
If you’re an international student (like me), you’re more likely to not have family members around you, turning your real friends into your family. If you do live with your family (and have a good relationship with them), make sure to openly communicate about what you’re going through and how you’re feeling, along with spending time with them as a break and refresher for your mind. Unfortunately, my parents and brother are far away from me, but I still put in the effort to call (mostly videocall) them and keep them in the loop. To me, obviously no one can replace your family, and I am fortunate to have a family that supports mostly every decision I take in life. It is crucial to build a good support system, not only for projects like this, but for life in general, and of course, allow yourself to be there for other and support them as well.
The picture above shows my England family, spending only a few months together so far, we have built a strong and close relationship that I highly treasure and hold close to my heart. I was fortunate and blessed to have met such supportive individuals with beautiful souls. Therefore, my tip for you is to build a support system that helps you function, whether its family members or friends, and hopefully it would help lift a lot of weight off you chest.
- Setting a schedule.
Working with a planner, or I personally love using my Google Calendar as it’s connected to my laptop and iPhone, try to map out what you need to get done. If you’re an hour-to-hour plan type of person then, you can set what you need to do each hour of the day. From starting time, to break time, to eating time and when to stop.
I am a day-to-day planning type of person, I work better setting tasks for the day without setting a time to do it, but knowing that the deadline for that task is by midnight. This allows me to work better because I give myself the freedom to work at the time I feel my mind is ready (because my mind focuses better at specific times of the day, usually mornings, but it differs each day). This also allows me to take breaks when I actually feel like it, instead of forcing myself because it is written on the schedule.
- Eating & Exercising.
Eat healthy! I cannot stress this enough, food is your source of energy, and it’s very important to eat the right type of food that keeps you active and motivated. I would say to stay away from junk food as its more likely to make you sleepy and tired, but I would be lying if I told you I didn’t eat junk food when I study. It is great comfort food, but just control the amount you of unhealthy food you eat. Here is a good blog on food that helps you focus and concentrate (click here). Same with exercise, studying now mostly consists of staring at a book or a screen, so you need to frequently take breaks to stretch and move your body to keep your blood flowing. Here is a good article on that (click here).
- Working closely with your supervisor (if applicable).
Finally, if you’re assigned to a supervisor (or supervisors) then take full advantage of this opportunity. As this is what they a specialized in, and have both good and bad experience in. I am aware that supervisors differ, you might be lucky in working with someone who is willing to help in every way possible, or you might get unlucky and work with someone who doesn’t really care to help. Although, be aware that mostly all colleges and universities allow you to change your supervisor in the early stages of the project if you’re unhappy, therefore make sure act fast and early to avoid any future challenges.
If you’re lucky to have a great supervisor, then make sure you ask as much questions as you can. From tips on how to approach the research, to how to destress and stay motivated, to setting realistic expectations. They are there for a reason, so make the most out of what you’re given.
That would conclude my tips for approaching dissertation period, I hope these tips helped some of you, and let me know your experiences and tips for approaching big projects. Make sure to follow the blog as I will post my experience after I finish my dissertation and report whether these tips helped me or not.
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Take care and love,