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Doing postgrad dissertation while working full time?

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    Hi everyone! I would like to ask for your opinion. I started doing a Master's degree in a biology/social sciences related subject at UCL in September 2010. However, in the process I got so burnt out and disheartened that I spent the summer of 2011, when I was supposed to be working on my dissertation, just panicking, endlessly procrastinating and trying to decide what to do. (I also had lots of problems with my accommodation at the time, had an abusive landlady... It's now all the past, thank God.)

    In September, after not having submitted my dissertation, I got a job as a ledger clerk with a small local company. I only work 16 hours a week, the whole idea was to have enough time to finish my master's, but I just couldn't bring myself to it, so I started teaching, improving my language skills, doing an introductory accountancy course and signing up for a maths degree with the OU, and other fun things.

    However, I recently decided that I want to finish my master's degree. I just cannot bear looking in the mirror anymore. I feel like a dropout, a cheater, a loser. Even if I will never work in an area related to my degree... I am only a dissertation away from a master's degree from one of the most prestigious universities of the world. (Also, I am from abroad so not too many people would know the university where I got my undergrad degree from.) Also, I am always struggling when I write a CV in terms of how to account for that year. But, most importantly, I realised that I would probably enjoy doing it in the end, and the reason why I've been putting it off for so long is simply that I've completely lost momentum.

    So I got in touch with my tutor and discussed my options, renewed my library membership, set up a study space, dusted off my old textbooks and notes, created a study plan and got down to work when...

    Just today afternoon I got a phone call from an accountancy firm to where I had sent my CV a couple of months ago, that they are inviting me for interview. It is a local, medium sized but relatively prestigious firm, and apparently lots of people want to work for them.

    What do I do now? What if I get this job? My master's dissertation is worth 60 credits which means, in theory, that I am supposed to work 600 hours on it. I have calculated that I will have to spend 15 hours a week from now until the submission deadline working on it. Also, take into consideration that in the past year I have not been doing anything related to my course so obviously I am quite rusty. Working full time while doing my dissertation would probably be undoable, right?

    So I will have to go for one or the other. Which one do you think I should pick? Or do you think the two are doable together? I feel that I have messed up my life enough in the past two years, I do not want to mess it up even further!
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    Spending 15 hours a week studying while you are working full-time is completely doable, as long as you are disciplined about it. Enough people have managed more than this doing part-time degrees . You will probably have to sacrifice some of your social life while you get this done though. I think you should go for it!
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    Thank you for the encouragement! What I forgot to mention is that if this firm likes me, supposedly they are going to offer me an ACCA training contract, which should take a further 5 hours per week of studying for professional exams... Also, now having done some OU modules, I properly appreciate the level of difficulty of my master's course. That is why I am freaked out a bit. Otherwise I am single and have no dependants (except for a houseplant).
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    5 hours is half a Saturday . Welcome to the world of part-time study
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    I'm currently working on my dissertation and many of my friends are working/ interning. It's do-able but I wouldn't recommend it. You spent a lot of money on this course and you must have worked really hard for it, it's just not worth taking the risk. Having said that, if you really want this job, I'd talk to the university and ask them if you can do it part-time.
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    (Original post by UCL_alumna?)
    Hi everyone! I would like to ask for your opinion. I started doing a Master's degree in a biology/social sciences related subject at UCL in September 2010. However, in the process I got so burnt out and disheartened that I spent the summer of 2011, when I was supposed to be working on my dissertation, just panicking, endlessly procrastinating and trying to decide what to do. (I also had lots of problems with my accommodation at the time, had an abusive landlady... It's now all the past, thank God.)

    In September, after not having submitted my dissertation, I got a job as a ledger clerk with a small local company. I only work 16 hours a week, the whole idea was to have enough time to finish my master's, but I just couldn't bring myself to it, so I started teaching, improving my language skills, doing an introductory accountancy course and signing up for a maths degree with the OU, and other fun things.

    However, I recently decided that I want to finish my master's degree. I just cannot bear looking in the mirror anymore. I feel like a dropout, a cheater, a loser. Even if I will never work in an area related to my degree... I am only a dissertation away from a master's degree from one of the most prestigious universities of the world. (Also, I am from abroad so not too many people would know the university where I got my undergrad degree from.) Also, I am always struggling when I write a CV in terms of how to account for that year. But, most importantly, I realised that I would probably enjoy doing it in the end, and the reason why I've been putting it off for so long is simply that I've completely lost momentum.

    So I got in touch with my tutor and discussed my options, renewed my library membership, set up a study space, dusted off my old textbooks and notes, created a study plan and got down to work when...

    Just today afternoon I got a phone call from an accountancy firm to where I had sent my CV a couple of months ago, that they are inviting me for interview. It is a local, medium sized but relatively prestigious firm, and apparently lots of people want to work for them.

    What do I do now? What if I get this job? My master's dissertation is worth 60 credits which means, in theory, that I am supposed to work 600 hours on it. I have calculated that I will have to spend 15 hours a week from now until the submission deadline working on it. Also, take into consideration that in the past year I have not been doing anything related to my course so obviously I am quite rusty. Working full time while doing my dissertation would probably be undoable, right?

    So I will have to go for one or the other. Which one do you think I should pick? Or do you think the two are doable together? I feel that I have messed up my life enough in the past two years, I do not want to mess it up even further!
    You are thinking too much about this. Plenty of people knock out a 50- or 60-hour week so the total workload isn't excessive. It's also only for a finite period of time.

    The 600 hours for the dissertation is notional- you don't fill in a timesheet. If you are organised and disciplined, there's no reason why you can't complete a decent dissertation in less time than that. If you produce 1000 words each day you work on it, and spend 1 day/week (Sunday?) on it, that would produce a dissertation in 6-12 months.

    You do need to be disciplined, but I always find it helpful to break up a big task into several smaller ones. So don't set yourself 'Write dissertation' as a task; set yourself 'Write four pages'. Also, put together a plan and structure before you start, so that you know the overall shape of the dissertation, and can measure progress by ticking off sections and subsections.

    Good luck
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    (Original post by Cora Lindsay)
    You are thinking too much about this. Plenty of people knock out a 50- or 60-hour week so the total workload isn't excessive. It's also only for a finite period of time.

    The 600 hours for the dissertation is notional- you don't fill in a timesheet. If you are organised and disciplined, there's no reason why you can't complete a decent dissertation in less time than that. If you produce 1000 words each day you work on it, and spend 1 day/week (Sunday?) on it, that would produce a dissertation in 6-12 months.

    You do need to be disciplined, but I always find it helpful to break up a big task into several smaller ones. So don't set yourself 'Write dissertation' as a task; set yourself 'Write four pages'. Also, put together a plan and structure before you start, so that you know the overall shape of the dissertation, and can measure progress by ticking off sections and subsections.

    Good luck
    While I do agree with you about many of the points you make, such as breaking it down into smaller tasks, or not necessarily needing 600 hours, I find the "write-1000-words-a-day" method way too simplistic. First of all, it is a research project, not just an essay/literature review. Also, having written a dissertation before, I have enough insight to know that dividing the word count by the number of days I am supposed to be working on it is NOT how it works. First of all, I have to find a supervisor, familiarise myself with the topic by reading lots of relevant papers, carry out some experiments, perform statistical analysis of the data etc. - it is only THEN that I can start writing. But I did my undergrad degree in a humanities subject - even in humanities, it doesn't quite work the way you describe it. In the beginning one reads a lot and writes little, and in the end, a lot of time is spent on structuring and reorganising what has already been written and checking for mistakes. Heck, my MSc dissertation is only supposed to be 10,000 words - according to your suggestion, I should be able to produce that in 10 days.
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    (Original post by UCL_alumna?)
    While I do agree with you about many of the points you make, such as breaking it down into smaller tasks, or not necessarily needing 600 hours, I find the "write-1000-words-a-day" method way too simplistic. First of all, it is a research project, not just an essay/literature review. Also, having written a dissertation before, I have enough insight to know that dividing the word count by the number of days I am supposed to be working on it is NOT how it works. First of all, I have to find a supervisor, familiarise myself with the topic by reading lots of relevant papers, carry out some experiments, perform statistical analysis of the data etc. - it is only THEN that I can start writing. But I did my undergrad degree in a humanities subject - even in humanities, it doesn't quite work the way you describe it. In the beginning one reads a lot and writes little, and in the end, a lot of time is spent on structuring and reorganising what has already been written and checking for mistakes. Heck, my MSc dissertation is only supposed to be 10,000 words - according to your suggestion, I should be able to produce that in 10 days.
    Fair enough- it worked for my PhD, but each to their own
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    (Original post by UCL_alumna?)
    While I do agree with you about many of the points you make, such as breaking it down into smaller tasks, or not necessarily needing 600 hours, I find the "write-1000-words-a-day" method way too simplistic. First of all, it is a research project, not just an essay/literature review. Also, having written a dissertation before, I have enough insight to know that dividing the word count by the number of days I am supposed to be working on it is NOT how it works. First of all, I have to find a supervisor, familiarise myself with the topic by reading lots of relevant papers, carry out some experiments, perform statistical analysis of the data etc. - it is only THEN that I can start writing. But I did my undergrad degree in a humanities subject - even in humanities, it doesn't quite work the way you describe it. In the beginning one reads a lot and writes little, and in the end, a lot of time is spent on structuring and reorganising what has already been written and checking for mistakes. Heck, my MSc dissertation is only supposed to be 10,000 words - according to your suggestion, I should be able to produce that in 10 days.
    Cora Lindsay is just trying to give you some advice, no need to take her so pedantically.

    So far as your dissertation is concerned, I had a baby mid-way through my full-time masters degree. I ended up having to resubmit this and by this time I had a difficult full-time job, new house, and a baby. I am now unemployed and have more time to research but the situation is hardly genial to studying, because I am no where near my university so I have to use local universities for basic resources. I just plug on and set achievable tasks (e.g. read one book a week).

    So far as your personal situation is concerned, it seems to me that you should just aim to submit something reasonable in order to get a pass. 10,000 words is much easier to deal with than 15,000 words; and even here you could knock this down to 9,000 if you wanted. If I were you I would set yourself x amount of time to conduct research and read secondary material, then set yourself y amount of time for the writing stage. I would focus heavily on the writing stage and just aim for a well-presented piece of work. It does not have to be anything fancy, just something that will get you a pass.
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    (Original post by evantej)
    Cora Lindsay is just trying to give you some advice, no need to take her so pedantically.

    So far as your dissertation is concerned, I had a baby mid-way through my full-time masters degree. I ended up having to resubmit this and by this time I had a difficult full-time job, new house, and a baby. I am now unemployed and have more time to research but the situation is hardly genial to studying, because I am no where near my university so I have to use local universities for basic resources. I just plug on and set achievable tasks (e.g. read one book a week).

    So far as your personal situation is concerned, it seems to me that you should just aim to submit something reasonable in order to get a pass. 10,000 words is much easier to deal with than 15,000 words; and even here you could knock this down to 9,000 if you wanted. If I were you I would set yourself x amount of time to conduct research and read secondary material, then set yourself y amount of time for the writing stage. I would focus heavily on the writing stage and just aim for a well-presented piece of work. It does not have to be anything fancy, just something that will get you a pass.
    Thanks for the advice! However, just to give a bit more background on my situation, and to explain why I am kind of worried: One of the reasons why I became so unmotivated to carry on with my degree is that my grades for the taught modules were really poor; the highest grade I got was 56% (and 50% was the pass mark for all modules, including the project). And then again, I didn't have a job or any other part-time commitment back then. Yeah, I know, it's UCL and it's a postgrad course, but during my undergrad degree, I used to have much better grades, and getting such poor grades suddenly made me doubt my own ability and suitability for the whole course, and even for higher education in general.

    Back when I was doing all these modules, my aim wasn't simply to pass; at the beginning of the course, I was determined that I'll get a distinction. I think by now you probably understand why I am afraid of "just aiming at something that will get me a pass". :s
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    (Original post by UCL_alumna?)
    Thanks for the advice! However, just to give a bit more background on my situation, and to explain why I am kind of worried: One of the reasons why I became so unmotivated to carry on with my degree is that my grades for the taught modules were really poor; the highest grade I got was 56% (and 50% was the pass mark for all modules, including the project). And then again, I didn't have a job or any other part-time commitment back then. Yeah, I know, it's UCL and it's a postgrad course, but during my undergrad degree, I used to have much better grades, and getting such poor grades suddenly made me doubt my own ability and suitability for the whole course, and even for higher education in general.

    Back when I was doing all these modules, my aim wasn't simply to pass; at the beginning of the course, I was determined that I'll get a distinction. I think by now you probably understand why I am afraid of "just aiming at something that will get me a pass". :s
    I think Cora Lindsay's original point is worth restating. Your problem seems to be that you over think! What you have just said is all well and good, but it is irrelevant. The reality is that you cannot get a distinction with those coursework marks, even if you got a distinction in your dissertation so you are worrying unnecessarily.

    You need to remember why you are doing this. Your demotivation from previous 'poor' marks is irrelevant. You are submitting your dissertation because you want your masters degree; so long as you get above 50% it does not matter how well you do. You are potentially getting a new job too so you need to put your dissertation into the grand scheme of things. It is something you need to do as soon as possible so you can begin the next stage of your life. (I am in exactly the same position for what it is worth; I start a part-time teaching programme in September so I working as fast as possible).

    Masters degrees are hard. Lots of people cannot hack them. But the fact you could not drop out says a lot about you. You came back when it was easier to just not bother. To me that says you have the dedication to get this done even if you do not feel it yourself.

    By all means, join the GOGSoc thread and post whenever you need academic or moral support; we will try to help you through it! We are all postgraduate students who are in the process or have gone through it.

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