So finally, dissertation school has been and gone. It was a weird mixture of emotions over the course of the school. A mixture of “Oh my God, I’ve nearly finished!” and “Oh my God, I’ve nearly finished?!”. It’s quite amazing how quickly the time has flown by. For a long time it seemed like the dissertation was nothing more than a distant dream. A mirage hovering over the horizon. Now I find that it isn’t a mirage, it’s real. How the hell do I deal with that!? Suddenly those modules don’t seem quite so bad. I almost long for a module pack with all the reading nicely organised for me. The thought of gathering my own reading material is quite…….intimidating. Anyway, now I have had a chance to digest the study school, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on that final, elusive stage of the course.
I guess the first thing I should make absolutely clear is that you should not feel concerned if you do not have the faintest idea what you are going to do your dissertation on. In fact, in my personal opinion, it is almost better if you don’t. It’s no good turning up with a fully formed idea and hours spent doing research on the topic in advance. Sure, it sounds scary. I was scared to death when I arrived and realised I had no idea what I was actually going to do my dissertation on. Well, I had a two or three vague ideas, but they were just that….vague. But it wasn’t just me. I knew others that didn’t even have one vague idea on that first day of lectures. So don’t feel overly concerned if you don’t have a clue. By the time I was driving back home from Wales, I was buzzing about an interesting idea (well, I thought it was interesting anyway!) I had when I was pottering around the Thomas Parry library hours before I left Wales behind. Now, this doesn’t work for everyone. There will be those who think it is better to have a fairly well-developed idea beforehand, but for me it was better to develop my ideas over the course of the school. Anyway, whatever position you find yourself in at study school, do not panic!
As for the study school itself, it was jam packed with a variety of lectures (if you want to get an idea of the timetable, you can view it here). The value of these lectures will kinda depend on what point you are at when you arrive at the school. If you have a fully formed idea, you may have already decided that you are not going to be interested in a quantitative research paper (let’s face it, you wouldn’t be in the minority if you decided to avoid that research method!). However, if you’re like me and you have no idea beforehand what you are going to do, it is well worth attending as many of the sessions as possible. I don’t think I missed a single one if I am honest. And I really did feel like I got something out of every session I attended. Yes, some sessions were a struggle and more than a little on the heavy side, but I felt like each session helped me to see what type of approach I would take to my dissertation. Some sessions seemed a bit odd at the time (like being interviewed on what your chosen topic is by a fellow student, only for that interview to form the basis of your later discussion with your dissertation supervisor), but I think looking back and seeing the whole thing in context, I can certainly see the value of the sessions that I attended.
Although I got a lot from the school, there was one thing that definitely would have made it an even more valuable experience. Throughout the course of the week, a number of previous students’ dissertations were made available to us to read and analyse in the Thomas Parry library. My biggest regret is not taking greater advantage of this resource while I was there. Sadly, the university does not currently hold these papers in a digital repository so once you get home from study school, you can kiss goodbye to ever having access to those resources again (well, unless they have shared them in a digital repository by the time you read this of course!). If I could change one thing about the school, it would be to have a day that could be spent in the library, either gathering materials for the dissertation or going through old papers to help develop your idea. I certainly felt that I could have had more time there. So take it from me, when you head to the dissertation school, take full advantage of the library….you won’t regret it one bit!
And so, after a week of trying to pin down what on earth I was going to do for my dissertation, I finally bade farewell to Aberystwyth and the Pantycelyn campus (I shan’t miss the shower rooms!). It almost felt like I had finished for good when I left (almost!)….but there is still a long way to go, a lot of studying still left to do. It has been a long hard slog up until now, but I have absolutely no regrets about doing the course. Not only has it helped my development (more on this another time…), but it has also opened me up to a whole world that I had never considered before (maybe I am overstating it slightly!). I have also been encouraged personally by some of the warm words spoken of this blog by my fellow students. There have been times when I worried about sharing my ignorance so openly (after all, I am not actually a librarian yet….or even in a librarian post) but knowing that some fellow students read my blog (perhaps that should be singular!) has given me a great deal of confidence to keep writing about libraries and the profession. If you had told me I would be doing this five years ago, I would have thought you were mad. But here I am and I’m glad I took the decision to do the course three years ago. Although maybe a few months into my dissertation I may change my mind!