I recently got the final version of my undergraduate dissertation printed, bound, and signed. I haven’t looked inside since for I am sure human errors are poised to pounce at me, all set to throw me into another bout of formatting fuss. But in spite of all its shortcomings, it is my single greatest academic achievement to date.
A lot goes into writing a dissertation. For starters, you have to have a clear idea of what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. The ‘how’ can wait. It is essential that you have some background in the subject. Academic interest is an enabler, personal interest a bonus. You’ll have to be patient, professional and hardworking – and consistent across it all. You’ll have to be self-sufficient because few people will agree to help you and fewer still will actually help (-note that this includes people who are supposed to help you). Finally, you will have to learn to compromise. You’ve been doing this all your university life but this time it is going to be different. It is going to be harder and it is going to be worse.
By the time you’re through, you’ll look at it like Stephen Hawking looked at his children and say: Look what I made
It won’t, however, last a lifetime. And by the time you’re through, you’ll look at it like Stephen Hawking looked at his children and say: Look what I made. You’ll be glad you cut down on activities in the day and pulled all-nighters, glad that you chased those experts to the point you were sure they were annoyed (-they weren’t!), and glad that you didn’t show mercy to any of those loosely-constructed arguments (-they only weakened your case).
Most of all, you’ll be glad you didn’t give up. What you have in front of you now is by no means perfect. But perfecting is not for beginners, trying is. You did what you could with what you had. All you need to be sure of is that you made the best of it. If you carried yourself through the process with discipline and devotion, don’t fret over the product. Chances are there is nothing to fret over. But, say there is, it is most certainly not of your doing. You know very well that you did not have everything under control. You couldn’t possibly.
So if you’re at that point where you’re confused about taking up research, weigh your options against your interest in, understanding of, and devotion to your subject. These three share the same threshold as your ability to conduct research.
You did not have everything under control. You couldn’t possibly
Don’t be deterred by the possibility of a bad grade. When someone says to you (-because someone definitely will) that two grades hinging on one research is a gamble, tell them you’re not afraid of gambling. That is pretty much what’s been happening to your results for the past four years. You are no more at the mercy of your examiner today than you were at that of your teachers for the past eight semesters. That was some 40+ courses. This is just two.
Also, don’t think that if your research isn’t published it is wasted. It is not. There’s no heed to take from people who tell you there’s no point in spending months on a paper nobody’s ever going to read. Pity them. Don’t be one of those people who are driven only by the possibility of reward. Learn to do it for the sake of it.
Remember: your dissertation is your one and only chance at this level of coming up with a contribution that is original and exclusive. Carpe Diem!