If my first year party-animal self could have seen into the future and witnessed my final semester of student life, I think she would have been horrified. Over the last few months, my life has followed this exhilarating pattern: eat, sleep, diss, repeat. For anyone who is blissfully unaware of life in the student bubble, ‘diss’ means ‘dissertation.’ Also known as ‘disso’, ‘the d word’, ‘my baby’, ‘the bane of my life’, or, the world’s worst April Fools joke taken way too far. If you feel that you don't have time, or you don't have the inspiration to work with a large amount of data, purchase college research papers and don't worry, because all your criteria and wishes will be included in the scientific paper.
My 12,000 word dissertation has completely taken over my life. I’ve waved goodbye to the social life I used to enjoy and I’ve forgotten the (quite) nice person I used to be. When you work on an independent project that carries so much weight in your final degree mark, it suddenly becomes all you think about. I’ve had dreams about my dissertation. I’ve been losing sleep over my dissertation. I’ve had dissertation guilt just from watching Netflix. It’s brought out the best and the worst in me; it’s made me a better historian and writer, but it’s also made me perpetually stressed, emotional, and exhausted.
But today, the end finally arrived. The tantalising light at the end of the tunnel that I’ve been squinting at for so long finally expanded and revealed a picture of utter dissertation bliss. I submitted my dissertation to the Leeds School of History and took myself straight to the Terrace bar to share a pitcher of Pimm’s with my friends in the sun. Freedom at last! Submitting such a momentous piece of work has left me feeling pretty reflective. Having envisioned this day for the past year, I’ve realised that in reality, it feels nothing like I thought it would. I thought I’d hand in my dissertation and never look back, but letting go of such an important project is just as emotional as the writing process itself. Is my dissertation any good? Does it make sense? Did I give 100%?
All in all, despite the emotional dissertation cocktail, there’s one thing that I’m grateful for. I wrote my dissertation about two of my greatest passions in life: America and women’s rights. Writing my dissertation about the history of American women has been the perfect excuse to encase myself even further into the dreamy American bubble I’ve been creating over the past year. What’s more, I’ve seen part of myself reflected back in the depths of the project; writing about European perspectives of American women has been a legitimate invitation to indulge in some study abroad nostalgia.
So if I could give one piece of advice to anyone approaching their final year, it would be to pick a dissertation topic that you actually enjoy. When you’re in the thick of it, you’ve had five hours’ sleep and you begin to have an existential crisis, your genuine passion for the topic will, at times, be the only thing that keeps the disso spark alive.
Whatever grade my dissertation gets in the end, I’m just glad that I wrote about a topic that I care for. It’s been an area of history that has a great bearing on my real life interests and something that has helped me to reflect upon two of my greatest passions. The star of my dissertation, Alexis de Tocqueville, once said: ‘In America I saw more than America; I sought there the image of democracy itself.’ I would- somewhat playfully- like to put my dissertation to bed, by replying: in my dissertation, I saw more than my dissertation; I sought there the image of America itself.