Struggling to plan your dissertation?

George Stevens – a third year Mathematics students – has written a fantastic piece on what to think about when deciding who to pick as a dissertation tutor and what topic you might want to consider. It’s definitely worth a read if you’re not sure about what you want to do for a final year project!
Content and planning:
  • Don’t worry too much about the exact direction you want to take the project in, just make sure you have some inital idea that you want to base your project on and go from there. As you research the ideas that you have, you will stumble upon different topics and directions to take your work in.
  • Make a flow chart or something similar to help you connect your ideas. I found this particularly helpful with my project because it showed me how all the different concepts and topics could be connected and gave the project a more ‘story like’ feel.
  • Your planning will 100% be over ambitious – don’t worry when you fall behind the schedule you have set yourself, it happened to pretty much everyone in my year.
  • Make sure your content is the right level for you, don’t choose something that you find too abstract or too difficult to understand just because you think it will get you a better grade. Some people in my year have chosen very difficult topics and struggled, when choosing a slightly easier topic would have benefitted them more.
Your Supervisor:
  • Projects are very different from lectures. I know some lecturers that didn’t get chosen as supervisiors because students didn’t like them as lecturers, but they ended up being incredibly helpful with the projects.
  • Before you make your choices for a supervisor, google them and see what research they have done. It will benefit you a lot if the supervisor’s research interests are similar to the topics in your project because they will already know the best sources and topics to include.
  • Consider whether the supervisor/project you choose is actually something you’ll be interested in. Lots of subjects will have an interesting or excting title but end up having difficult or uninteresting maths. If you don’t like Stats then don’t pick a Stats project; they take a lot of time and effort, and you will be sat at a computer doing hours of simulations and end up with hundreds of pages of work.
Write Up:
  • USE LATEX. Seriously, you won’t lose marks for using word instead, but LaTeX makes everything look so much better, makes referencing easier, and it’s really easy to learn. Try doing all your first semester coursework on LaTeX for practice – there’s loads on the internet to help you with it too.
  • Do the MM397 Communicating Mathematics module. It teaches you a lot of skills that will help you with the project; referencing properly, writing style, and writing for a technical audience are three such examples. It will also give you good practise in writing up a piece of typeset mathematics.
  • Unless you are someone who can just sit there and write 5000 words in a couple of days, start writing early. If you have words down it will make it feel less daunting when it comes to wrinting up the main bulk. I personally started writing around the start of the second semester and got a large chunk of the work done in a couple of weeks but this doesn’t work for everyone.
  • Unless you’re working from a specific title, don’t decide your title until the end. This will mean that you make your title fits your work rather than the other way round and it makes your project look better. The same goes for the abstract/introduction.
  • IGNORE WORD COUNTS. I know that you get given a word count, but you are Maths students so it literally doesn’t matter at all. People in my year that I have spoken to have wordcounts ranging from about 5500 words to 21000. If you really want to worry about wordcounts, upload your project draft to a pdf wordcounter (not Turnitin, that counts Maths text as words).
  • Whenever you write a significant amount, try and meet with your supervisor so they can check it. That way you can change stuff and make sure you’re going along the right lines.
  • Reference properly. You learn more about this throughout the year and regularly upload your project to Turnitin to check your plagarism. Don’t worry if the plagarism percentage is high (check the plagarism report thing, that tells you where any matching text comes from and how much it contributes). Chances are it will just be because it’s Maths and you can’t really change most proofs.
  • Don’t panic about failing or not getting it done on time. Everyone on my course managed to finsh it and finish on time. Also, it’s very unlikely you will fail – as long as you have met with your supervisor a few times you will be going in the right sort of direction. The university would not let you get this far to then let you fail your dissertation.
  • Talk about your work with your friends on the course and try to read each others work.
  • Try and find people in my year that have done similar projects, they will probably be more than happy to give you advice and show you what they did

I know a lot of what I’ve said will be obvious, but hopefully it helps. If you or anyone else in your year has any questions before choosing your projects send them my way¬†(