Operation Graduation: Undergraduate Dissertation

What is Diss?

Dissertation season is in full swing as the April 6th deadline races relentlessly towards us. For both Human and Physical Geographers, the laborious process kicked off in February 2016, with the submission of our dissertation proposals for Research Design. This six week course allowed us to explore methodologies and literature pertaining to our chosen topic while developing a strategic plan of attack, I mean outline and timeline for our dissertation. That was one year ago. Plenty has transpired over the course of 12 months: topic changes, presentations, surveys, sporadic tears, interviews, and fleeting feelings of accomplishment. I now invite you to hop on the “diss” bus and ride the bumpy road to a 12,000 word undergraduate honours dissertation.

***DISCLOSURE*** This is from the standpoint of a human geography dissertation. Also I have not yet reached the (so close yet so far far away) finish line, so as an expert level 3000 procrastinator this is my own unique experience.

My topic

I am researching Intentions and Receptions of Public Art in the Washington D.C Metro (a working title). I began by a literature review consisting of public art in public transit systems throughout the United States as well as Europe. I looked at both geography and art journals, news articles, and transportation magazines and reports. As a commuter of the D.C Metro (I’m from the state of Maryland) I noticed the often bare and grey walls of the underground transit system. While the massive vaulted ceilings of the underground stations are artistically designed, the general aesthetic of the metro, while classical, is from a different time (1970s) and commuter demographics/purpose has dramatically diversified since then. My research consists of looking to why certain public art installations are chosen for certain stations, and how the commuters and surrounding communities respond and interact with the pieces.

Summer research

Flash forward to summer 2016. The typical diss plan involves getting it all done in the summer. I do in fact know of a few students who successfully met this challenge, entering their final year of Geography with diss all done, however I was not one of them. As always, life gets in the way. Because I was considering a career change into education, I worked full time in a nursery-preschool back home during the summer. It was the best experience of my life and made me confident about my decision to pursue primary education teaching after completing my undergraduate degree. Meanwhile I was slowly but surely getting on with my research by doing readings and contacting most of the people I would need to be interviewing. This proved to be a time-consuming process. Contacting 30+ individuals through their email addresses, phone numbers, and speaking with them was not always as simple as a quick google search, contrary to my expectation.

Semester 1 (Autumn 2016)

Throughout the semester I met with my diss supervisor who guided me as to what kind of questions I should be asking and the best methods for my research. The next requirement for diss was the Dissertation Conference, which took place on October 12, 2016. Everyone presented their projects in a powerpoint to a group of about 20 peers and 2-3 professors. This was good public speaking practice and provided much needed feedback.

It is now winter break 2016-2017. 

*Record scratch. Freeze-frame* You’re probably wondering how I got myself into this situation. I, Andrea, have been a procrastinator for 21 years. Let this be a warning to anyone starting to work on their proposals: diss is like a bandaid, might as well rip it off in one fell swoop, sooner rather than later, before it starts to attract bits of dust from your jumper and get a gross little fuzzy edge. Slowly peeling off the plaster and feeling the pain of each hair and skin cell being plucked off your arm is highly unpleasant and always a regret.

Semester 2 (Spring 2017)

Anyways, in January I had an intense couple of weeks doing research, conducting several interviews and surveys in the nation’s capitol. I interviewed both artists, community members involved in art projects, and the head of Art in Transit at Metro. The surveys involved me standing outside of a busy Metro station exit holding a sign that said “15 SECOND SURVEY.” My survey was literally 15 seconds long, a fact verified by a few comedian commuters who decided to time it. I did this several times until reaching my desired amount of survey answers, as well as creating, posting and sharing an online survey. In the following weeks I will be wrapping up my research with some phone and Skype interviews alongside writing the core chapters of my diss: introduction, literature review, methodology, analysis, and conclusion. Of course, these chapters will be broken up into various sections, and I may add more chapters if necessary. The appendix will hold all of my raw data such as scans of the surveys and bits of interview transcripts. My personal deadline is Saint Patrick’s day, on March 17th, giving my supervisor a couple of weeks to comment on my final diss draft. Here’s to finishing university, and good luck to my fellow fourth year geographers!

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