Dissertation Writing: What I've Learnt So Far

The third and final year of my university course is fast approaching (eeek!) and so I've been really knuckling down recently and dedicating a lot of my free time to dissertation research. I've officially picked my studio space (a prime position by a big window and a radiator so I'll be cosy this winter) and moved all of my arty stuff back into it. I'm feeling very eager to get back to studio life - I love the sense of routine it gives me and having a large, bright, open space filled with plants to work in is very motivational, as is being surrounded by the most creative people I've ever met for 10+ hours a day. Sometimes I struggle creatively when I'm working alone so being able to bounce ideas off people who are on the same wavelength as me is always helpful. I feel like I've learnt a lot about dissertation writing in only a few short weeks so I thought I'd write a little post about how I'm finding it so far - regular updates to follow. And probably a few teary moments, too; much like Winter, dissertation related breakdowns are coming.

I'm in the very early stages of research at the moment and, as I mentioned briefly in a previous post, I have a rough idea of what I want to focus on in more depth - both practically and theoretically - for my final year at university. Over the past year I've become increasingly interested in technological processes and material research and how these are helping to shape the future of textile and surface design. A lot of my practical work has been centred around innovation and sampling for different markets and so it seemed almost like natural progression to continue this further. I left second year with a definite dissertation question but after starting research I started to notice holes in it and felt a bit more uncomfortable with it every time I read it (which was about 30 times a day). I went to speak to my tutor about it and ended up leaving his office without a question at all. Scary for someone like me who has to meticulously plan everything, but I actually feel a lot better now, which leads me onto my next point...

Now that I'm focusing more on a broader topic of research, I feel a lot less constricted into trying to answer my question prematurely or give a definite "answer" to a topic. I'm looking at it as more of an open discussion, which is allowing me to explore more avenues of research and truly enjoy looking further into innovation in a broader sense. As I'm gathering more research and reading more material I can see some potential, albeit vague, discourses that I can start to run with when university begins again. What started as a small, concise mindmap in my trusty moleskine is now a sprawling A3 sheet of ideas. I can really see now how my research is going to shape and inform my dissertation title, rather than my title shaping my research. It's a bit backwards to everything I've ever learnt in education about essay writing before (I've had "ANSWER THE QUESTION" drilled into me for years) but I think not having a question to answer at this stage is for the best as it's encouraging me to think outside the box a bit more. I really want to write something original said every person who has ever written a dissertation ever and being more open minded is hopefully allowing me to do that.

I have a pretty impressive collection of Moleskine notebooks (they're cheap in our uni shop and I can never resist them because they're so sleek and lovely) so I recently decided to start putting them to use. I don't think I wrote a single thing down onto paper last year - I typed all of my lecture notes, wrote all my essays from start to finish on my laptop and used Pages constantly over a notebook. However obvious it might be to some people, I've recently discovered that it's so much easier for me to remember and digest information if I handwrite it. When I'm typing it becomes an almost robotic thing and I often find that I've written whole paragraphs that I don't even remember thinking much about (see: my whole blog). I've been an avid notebook collector for years but I'm glad that I've finally started to appreciate them properly again. ♥ 

During long library days and hours spent in front of my desk at home, I've realised that I'm very easily distracted when I'm not "in the zone". For example, I started writing this blog post in the middle of half-listening to a long, waffly trend report video. I've discovered that I really enjoy chopping fruit and vegetables into shapes as a form of procrastination. I now know that my cheese plant grows towards the darkest corner of my room because in the wild the darker areas are where the bigger trees grow which it can then use to climb to areas of sunlight (pretty clever, huh?). I read somewhere that you can't fold a piece of paper exactly in half more than 8 times, no matter how big the original sheet is. It's true. I've tried. Many times. I've also taught myself how to write upside down so neatly that when I turn the page around it looks like my actual writing. Impressive, maybe? I've also discovered a passion for rearranging my desk in a quest for a beautiful workspace á la Kate La Vie. Anything and everything becomes interesting to me when I lose focus.

Although I beat myself up about how easily distracted I am, I'm starting to learn that taking breaks is important. I'm a bit of a workaholic in the sense that I feel guilty for not working, but I know that it's impossible for me to work at 100% capacity 24/7. I've found that if I plan to have a break at a certain time then I'm actually more productive and less likely to become distracted during the hours that I'm supposed to be working. Even if it's only a 10-15 minute break every couple of hours, moving my eyes away from a book or a screen for a bit and taking time to recharge has been really helping my concentration levels.

For me, eating goes hand in hand with the importance of taking breaks. One of my main problems with food has always been that I view it as a waste of my time. Why spend an hour cooking a meal when I could spend that hour doing work? Why go and get a snack or a hot beverage when I could just carry on working? Feelings of guilt surrounding eating certain foods have mostly disappeared for me throughout recovery now (thank God), but the feelings of guilt surrounding choosing to eat instead of work are still pretty strong. They're irrational, especially since I always seem to do better at uni grade-wise when I'm at a higher weight (not really a surprise to most people... but it was to me) and since eating is the thing which actually enables my brain doing its job. Due to this, I've been really trying to make a conscious effort to keep myself fuelled with healthy, nutritious food whilst working. I've been keeping emergency snacks in my bag when I'm at uni so I can eat on the go and trying to eat better balanced meals throughout the day to keep myself full for longer. I've also been trying to make mealtimes into more of an ~occasion~ so that I don't forget about them when I'm stressed and that seems to be helping too. Routines are important to me so I'm trying to force myself into a better set of behaviours now in preparation for third year.

If any of you have also started researching/writing your dissertation I'd love to know how you're finding it too! Or if you're a dissertation veteran, please tell me that it gets better/easier... *shifty eyes emoji*
Hope you're all doing well and enjoying the last leg of Summer!!

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