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Dissertation questions

Thursday 9 April 2009 Dissertations

Two experts from City University London answer your dissertation questions.

I don't get on with my dissertation tutor, is there anyone else who can help me?

"In the unlikely event of a disagreement with a supervisor, the department will have in place a process for you to speak to another member of staff to discuss the issue and, where appropriate, change tutor. Your course handbook will normally provide you with information about who to speak to," says Susannah Marsden, Head of the Academic Development Unit. "But dissertation procedures will differ from institution to institution."

I don't know how to reference properly and am worried I will end up plagiarising. Who can help me with this?

"At City University London we support students in learning about good academic practice from the start of their course," says Susannah. "This is designed to provide students with general skills for all their work as well as preparing for the final year dissertation which is likely to be the most substantial piece of written work you complete. In addition to practical experience that you will gain during your course, your course handbook or other supplementary information should provide you with written guidance about referencing; your tutor will also be another source of guidance."

I have been unwell and am worried I am not going to finish my dissertation on time. Can I get an extension?

"It is essential that you advise your tutor if you have been unwell," advises Susannah. "Your course handbook will then provide information about the formal way in which you should submit a request for an extension and how this will be considered. To ensure fairness to all students, it is normal for you to have to provide evidence of your illness through a doctor’s note and for all extension requests to be considered through the same process, for example, through an Extenuating Circumstances Panel."

Apart from a dissertation tutor, what help/services do universities offer students who are struggling with their dissertations?

"It is usual practice for students to submit a formal dissertation proposal before they start their work and on some courses, this will be assessed formally. The purpose of submitting a proposal is to show that students have considered the type of research they want to undertake, have thought about the resources they need, and have a working plan for the project to be completed. Students will be allocated a number of tutorials with their dissertation tutor who will be the main source of support.

"At City University London, Library Information Services and Learning for Success are two departments that can provide supplementary support to students on particular aspects of their work, for example, guidance on researching particular topics or support on academic writing."

I have hit a wall and don't know what to do. Can my dissertation tutor help me?

"Of course. You should contact your dissertation tutor promptly and they will respond with appropriate advice. Remember, you are the driver of your dissertation and should make your tutor aware of any issues you are facing," advises Dr Vesna Brujic-Okretic, Head of Department of Information Science, School of Informatics.

I think I've chosen the wrong topic. My dissertation is due in at the end of May. Can I change it?

"This depends on timing," explains Dr Brujic-Okrectic. "If you are some way through research for or drafting your dissertation it is probably unwise for you to change topic completely as you will not have sufficient time to start from scratch. Should you have any doubts about your topic, you should discuss these with your tutor who will be able to advise you on next steps, however, it will ultimately be your decision about how to proceed. It is sometimes the case that as you research a topic, you may want to refine your title from that which you previously proposed. This is normally OK but you should definitely discuss it with your tutor."

A classmate wants to see my work but I am worried they are going to copy it. What should I do?

"Dissertation topics are normally quite distinct and individual. It is your judgement about whether you want a classmate to see your work but you might want to take into consideration whether this is in both your best interests," advises Dr Brujic-Okrectic. "It is important to remember that any piece of work you do at University should be your own so that the assessment process is fair to each and every student. Should your classmate copy part of your work, it is highly likely that this will be detected. You will also want to ensure that you are not colluding with your classmate to gain unfair advantage."