I'm not a huge fan of this fad for short dissertations these days. It's really hard to make a good job of a research project in 8,000-10,000 words. The foundations of a project often need to be spelled out at length to show the examiner you understand the background to the area, and by the time you've done that you're left with 5,000 words to cram your research into. Most subjects still have 12,000-15,000, which I think is a much more reasonable length. In some ways it's easier to make a good job of something that length.
Workloads in North American universities look bad, but they're alright really. Compared to the weekly 2500 word essay that allowed you about two days a week to do other things with three days solid reading and two days writing, I felt the mid-term paper structure was much less intense. You had to write 5,000 words twice a term for two subjects, yeah, but you could at least have a couple of weeks to understand what the hell you were doing. In a way that's a good thing: doing nothing for four weeks and then rehashing a few books into something isn't the best way to really understand what the hell you're doing. TBH my junior honours structure of three essays, three seminar papers and three presentations in a term (typically that meant nine weeks) was a good workload balance if you did it properly. Also allowed enough time to enjoy yourself and not have to work ridiculously hungover unless you had a planning nightmare.
Compared to my 12,000 word INTRODUCTION to my current work, I long for essays again, although I think I've forgotten how to say anything meaningful in under 5,000 words now. Assuming I say anything meaningful as it is.