As LSE LIFE continues to develop and expand its workshops for students across the School, the centre is also engaged in collaborative efforts with departments to address specific programme needs.  An example of this was a collaborative Saturday ‘Away Day’ for MSc Politics and Communication students co-designed by Dr Nick Anstead (Media and Communications), Dr Sara Felix (LSE LIFE), and Jennifer Steven (LSE Careers). In this article, Dr Sara Felix outlines how MSc students from the Politics and Communication programme spent the day preparing to work on their dissertations.

The purpose of this Away Day, on 21 January 2017, was to offer students the space to reflect on their dissertations in ways that their current course offering doesn’t allow.  The day was divided into three hour-and-a-half long sessions: first, students considered the possibility of using comparative politics in their dissertations (led by Nick); second, they mapped out the connections between theory, methods, and data to see the coherent stories of their dissertations (led by Sara); and finally, they gain further insight into career opportunities open to them as politics and media students (led by Jennifer).

Drawing on Nick’s experiences working with MSc students and understanding the expectations of the Politics and Communication programme, Sara created a workshop focused on developing cohesive arguments within dissertations.  The first session of the day led by Nick, on comparative politics, allowed students to begin to think about their specific research topics, which then acted as a spring board into the LSE LIFE workshop led by Sara.  The first twenty minutes of Sara’s session focused on how elements of arguments are synthesised into dissertations, and the rest of the hour and a half had students mapping out their dissertations on poster paper, and discussing connections between theory, methods and data analysis (see instructions for the mapping activity below).  The aim of mapping these areas to frame their specific research topics was to allow students to create a holistic view of their research that they could return to (and edit) at different stages of their work.   Often, in the dissertation writing process, student can get caught up in the details at the cost of the overall connections.  The hope of the activity was to create a document that could act as an overview to help students maintain a wider focus while writing the details of specific dissertation sections.

The mapping exercise also served a second purpose for these students – it created a talking point for them to begin sharing and discussing ideas.  Students developed their maps in six stages, focusing on 1) theoretical frameworks, 2) methods to their study to answer the question(s), 3) data analysis, 4) drawing and explicating links between theory and methods, 5) drawing and explicating links between methods and data analysis, and finally 6) drawing and explicating links between their data analysis and the theoretical framework.  Between each stage students, in groups of three, shared their ideas and offered questions and further ideas on possibilities to their group mates.  During these stages of discussion, the workshop room at LSE LIFE was loud and lively, with students actively entering into research dialogues that had each one consider deeper implications of how they were imagining their own work.  The process of writing a dissertation moved from an isolating experience of writing an individual project into a collaborative environment where fellow researchers helped each individual better understand and express their work.

Nick observed and engaged students during Sara’s session, encouraging students in their discussions from a disciplinary perspective.  After the event, he commented that ‘the content taught by LSE LIFE was both inspiring and useful for the students’.  He also expressed keen interest in seeing this as the ‘first LSE LIFE Away Day’ that would be repeated with future cohorts of students.  It is collaborations like these that can help students expand their thinking while also discovering the role of dialogue in developing their individual research projects.

Departments and programmes that are interested in similar collaborative opportunities with LSE LIFE to best support students throughout their programmes can send an email to lselife@lse.ac.uk .

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