My Experience Choosing a Dissertation Topic

by Kaley Dallaire

One of the first questions I had when applying for my masters was what the dissertation process would be like. I had written a thesis in my undergraduate and so while I was familiar with the process at my university in Canada, I was unsure of how it would be for a master’s course in the UK. While I can’t speak for all universities, this was my experience at Newcastle University studying for an MSc Foundations in Clinical Psychology.

A desk with a computer on a table

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Working on my Dissertation Proposal

Supervisor Selection

Towards the end of semester one a PDF was sent out to all students with a list of people who were willing to take on students for a dissertation. Some of these people had pre-established projects and were looking for students to take on one of their projects and others had broad research interests and were willing to take students for their own project ideas. While this helps for students who do not have any strong research interests or a specific project in mind, it is a bit harder for someone with a specific idea to find a project with this kind of system. I have specific research interests so the options for supervisors in my area was very minimal. I went to one meeting for someone in my area of interest, but so did 20+ other interested students. It turned out that she was only willing to take 2 students and with over 20 of us looking to go onto the project, I was not one of them. Since she was my only option for a project in my specific area, I was left without a project and no ideas. This is how I went from having no project and no ideas, to getting a dissertation project I am very happy with.

My Experience

I began contacting other supervisors who studied areas that I am interested in. My main interest is on childhood illness, but because I am also interested in anxiety, disordered eating, a developmental disorders, I started contacting other researchers in these areas. After contacting dozens of faculty members and going to many meetings I started to narrow down my options to 3. Some of the faculty members had already taken on student and didn’t have room for another, and some had projects that I didn’t see myself enjoying working on, so this also factored into my decision.

After having 3 projects that I had an interest in I had to make a decision. What ultimately led to my final decision was which would give me the most relevant experience for my future studies and future career. One of these three projects involved being trained to deliver an intervention and this largely is what drove my decision in choosing the topic.

My course has about 70 students, which is the largest year yet and double what they had last year. This means that way more people were competing for a dissertation with the same amount of faculty as previous years. With most faculty only taking 2 or 3 students it seemed that rejections were more common than getting a project. But with that being said, this was my experience and different programs and different universities may have less students or more faculty. Choosing a dissertation was a very stressful few weeks, but in the end all 70 of us landed on a project.

Tips for choosing a dissertation

  • Remember you will be spending a lot of time on this project, so don’t just agree to something to have a project. Make sure it’s something you have at least some interest in.
  • If your project isn’t exactly what you want to do out of school don’t worry. The main point of the dissertation is just to get experience.
  • Try not to stress too much. While choosing a project may be hard and things may not go as planned, you will end up with a project.
  • Go into it with an open mind. While your project may not be perfect or ideal, it can still be something you end up happy with.
  • Contact many people and start the process early! The sooner you start contacting supervisors the better your chances are to get onto a high demand project.

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