MSc dissertation and long essay supervision is managed differently across LSE departments. In reviewing your own departmental approach, there are several central questions to the design of this kind of development work. This blog post is organised around these questions and provides examples of how different departments respond to them. Course codes are given for examples of different approaches to enable follow up and comparison, and because the Calendar entries and Moodle sites for these courses outline what is done.
When is a good time to get students planning their dissertations?
Traditionally, dissertation supervision has taken place late in the academic year. However, many departments now require students to begin thinking formally about their dissertations in Michaelmas Term. The main driver for this is the requirement to submit dissertation proposals normally by MT10 or LT01. The format of these proposals varies, with some needing only the topic and a title, while others require 500 word summaries of the dissertation plan (MSc AOI). Other programmes begin the process of input on writing dissertations in MT, even where the substantive content of the dissertation is taught in Lent Term (MSc Economics). The intention of this is to have students thinking about the coming term within the context of having to complete a research project.
How can dissertation writing be guided?
There are now examples of taught half-unit courses focussed on dissertation or long essay writing. Some dissertation writing courses take a research methods approach (eg DV410, EU465). The new Lent Term LLM half-unit on Legal Research (LL4F9) combines methods input with consideration of writing and the nature of academic argument. One way this is done is by faculty presenting articles they have written themselves and outlining how they planned and wrote the text.
An alternative approach to running a formal course is to offer additional sessions or guidance. This is done in three main ways. The first is through one-off workshops at programme level: these tend to combine focus on the requirements of the text, the assessment criteria and then discussion of how to approach the task within this context (MSc Econonimics Lent Term options, AC424). Another approach is one-off peer planning sessions (World Café-type workshops), during which students outline their own plan and then offer feedback and ideas on other students’ outlines. MSc Law and Accounting (LL440) has done this for a number of years – see our Law and Accounting Café post – and Economic History (EH498) has piloted a similar approach this year. The potential advantage of this approach lies in requiring students to think about the process of investigating a number of research questions and planning texts to report on this. They are then more likely to bring this learning to their own projects. A third way of offering additional input on dissertation writing is through GTAs offering complementary sessions to the main input (eg MC Labs and the Social Psychology supplementary seminars).
How does supervision fit into this guidance?
Models of supervision predominantly take two forms. The first is two meetings in the second half of Lent Term. This has the advantage of encouraging students to use part of the Easter break for their dissertation or long essay research. In MSc dissertations in Finance and Economics, with hand-in dates in June, this is especially important.
The second approach is to hold supervision meetings in Summer Term. This approach often requires students to have submitted quite detailed plans or sections of the final text, which are then discussed in the supervision meetings. A good example of this approach is EU499, which requires a 3000 word submission in ST01.
A new approach to supervision worth considering is the use of Dissertation Project Officers in Social Psychology. These officers are PhD students with experience of using particular research methods. They hold office hours and are available via Skype and email during July and August to respond to questions and queries about conducting research projects.
With thanks to Neil McLean in LSE’s Teaching and Learning Centre for contributing this post. He and fellow educational developers at LSE are available to discuss different aspects of dissertation supervision.