My Dissertation Journey

By Manuella (Student blogger: Economics and International Relations)

If I am to be asked to describe writing a dissertation in a word; adventurous would be that word, especially having done it in the age of our new normal. I cannot begin to explain how bitter sweet the journey has been and if you have made it this far, I give my accolades because you deserve to be applauded and I wish you the very best. That said, I think I want to share my journey and how much fun I have had doing it. I am however glad to inform you that we are seeing the end of this race and there are a few things I have learnt along the way.

Five Hacks to a Smooth Dissertation Experience

  1. Start your dissertation early

I was privileged to have my friends as well as lecturers who through class discussions helped me decide on a topic as early as my last trimester in my second year. That enabled me to narrow my research down to a specific area of study. This advantage motivated my study group to do the same, and eventually we all had a writing timeline in the middle of summer 2020. This was quite challenging, as everyone was in lockdown and we were not mentally motivated to start extensive research, but this gave us the luxury of time to learn and navigate our research at our own pace. Thereby if you start your dissertation early you will have a longer deadline and peace of mind when typing your research paper.

  1. Have a group of accountability partners

Schooling in a pandemic takes time to adjust to, thereby if you are to accomplish a lot, you will need people to constantly hold you accountable and motivate you. It is also exciting when you and your friends turn it into a game of who finishes first and writes best. Take a chance and try it out.

  1. Have a genuine interest in your topic of choice

In order to fully enjoy the process, you must have a passion for it. Year three for me concludes my bachelor’s degree experience and I have been privileged to learn and gain knowledge with some outstanding people. I needed that to translate into my research paper and it felt more fulfilling researching a topic I have had countless academic debates about in class.

  1. Start cross-checking and taking feedback early

One of the best ways to know whether you are doing your work right is to hear it from another perspective. As aforementioned, I am privileged to be in such a good learning environment, and I used that advantage to make sure I was writing my very best. My dissertation writing strategy included: discussing my outline with my friends over a zoom call, cross checking that outline with another friend who graduated a year before me, before delving into the topic with my supervisor and academic services. After getting feedback I adjusted accordingly and repeated the whole cycle again. This also boosted my confidence when writing as I knew my mistakes were being pointed out.

  1. Self-care is key

You can only be the best version of yourself when you are in the best health. So in as much as you are racing against a deadline with added course works and assignment, take time out for yourself. During the course of writing my research paper, there were certain zoom calls that were purposely to relieve stress between my study mates and I, we often talked about movies, frustrations, and shared some needed banter to keep us calm. We even planned a lunch date as a reward for submitting on time and checking off our goals list. The said lunch served as an incentive for us all, and it was fun.

All in all, year three like I said has been quite the adventure, and I have enjoyed every moment of it. I do hope that these tips will help motivate you and educate you on the way in which to sail through third year easier. All my best to you and do have fun along the journey.

Tips to Ace your Online Open-Book Exams

By Leanne (Student blogger: Business Management)

It’s time for the most crucial part of the academic year – finals. For many of us, these exams could make or break our final grade.

During the pandemic, most of us are faced with online open-book exams. At first, this might sound like a blessing, but we’ll soon find out that a relaxed deadline and uncontrolled environment could lead to our long-dreaded familiar friend – procrastination.

To avoid slacking and last-minute panicking, here are a few tips to ensure you’re prepared to ACE your online open-book exams!

  1. Create effective summary notes

I hate to break it to you but… relying on your search function isn’t enough! Creating your own concise and effective summary notes can reduce the time you spend searching through lecture notes. Take this as an opportunity to actively recall important parts of your lectures and process information in your own words.

  1. Apply your skills

Markers will be grading your answers based on how you tackle each question, this is especially relevant in essay-based exams. You should be focusing on forming linkages with frameworks taught in class and building a strong argument.

  1. Take the time to plan

Stay calm when reading your exam questions. Thoroughly examine and understand the question instead of jumping directly into it. Be cautious when identifying theories and structure your answers with clarity (e.g. PEEL answering technique).

  1. Practice time-keeping

A 23-hour submission timeframe might sound ideal until you find yourself being too relaxed during the exam, potentially leading to a lack of focus, discipline and critical thinking. We can combat this by practicing past papers, doing our best to stick to the given time and double checking our answers. The bottom line is: “One always has time enough, if one will apply it well.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

  1. Don’t forget your mental health

Your grades do not define you! It’s important to remind yourself that you have enrolled onto the course and picked these subjects because of your interests. The skills you have nurtured over these past few months will benefit your career and life even if it does not show on paper. Your university experience is a stepping stone in life that guides you closer to where you are meant to be.

With all that being said, I wish you good luck in your online exams and all the best!


I’ve finished my 24-hour online exams. Here’s the tea…

By Sean (Student blogger: MSci Hons Computer Science)

I am done with my degree.

It feels surreal to say that, and I’m only able to because the Computer Science exams were held earlier than seemingly the rest of the university’s! Nevertheless, I’ve been there – sat for all 6 of my final, 3rd year Computer Science papers in a 24-hour, online, open-book exam format over the course of 3 weeks, and I’m here to tell you the things that stood out from my experience.

  1. The change of setting is your best friend.

You know that sinking anxiety you get when everyone’s huddling around the door to the exam hall, waiting to be let in? Those 2 tense minutes when the papers have been handed out but it isn’t 11:00AM sharp so everyone has to keep quiet and wait until they say you can flip over your sheets? That intense panic you get when they say “30 minutes left” and you’re still on question 2?

From my experience, these anxieties are all either greatly reduced or completely absent when taking an online exam. You might get the nerves during the buildup, but after the first 30 minutes you realize… you’re in the comfort of your own room (or the library, if that’s your thing). You know this place, unlike the cold, cruel exam hall. You don’t have 8 equally anxious people spaced 2 meters away from you in every direction, and you certainly don’t have hawk-eyed invigilators watching your every move.

To me, the fact that I didn’t feel like I was being forced to do everything a certain way gave me a great deal of privacy, and I was able to focus all that worrying energy into my actual paper. I could get a yummy snack or put on some music any time I wanted, so I felt very much in control. The amount of freedom, flexibility and confidence that gives you works wonders for your mental health and as a result, helps you when you’re answering those mind-boggling exam questions.


  1. You can pace yourself!

When I’m in a normal exam, I find I always have to save a portion of my brain cells for monitoring the clock. “Drat, it’s already 30 minutes, I have to move on to question 4, but I still have like 40% of question 3 to go… I guess I’ll have to skip a few points and come back to this later” … sound familiar?

Having my time limit be a whole day really made me realize how much stress a 3-hour window puts on your mind, and how well you can pace yourself when you don’t have that clock breathing down your neck. You have time to answer the questions to the best of your ability, and make sure that you get those points across clearly. Oh, you’re not in the mood for doing the exam right now? Take a walk and come back in an hour or two! It also helps eliminate situations where you might miss a question or two (speaking from personal experience…) because you have time to double-check your work. Having such a long time period was, to me, truly a godsend.


  1. Surprisingly, they feel more realistic

This last point is a bit unexpected, and honestly might not apply to every course (especially the more practical ones). However, I personally found that online exams feel more like what I would expect in a real-world setting over the carefully orchestrated and contained in-person written exams. In real life, you’re going to have access to your books, your computer and the internet. Recall questions don’t really take that into account and rely on you regurgitating information instead of understanding it. However, because these exams are open-book, and you have your resources ready, the questions are able to focus on your understanding of the material instead and provide a more helpful and realistic experience.

Honestly? I liked the online exams. Gasp, yes, but I felt these were a more effective way to evaluate students’ abilities than traditional exams. I’m glad I got to finish off my academic studies like this, because I don’t think there will come another opportunity like this one for a long while. Best of luck with your exams if you have any papers soon! They might still seem terrifying, but remember that at the end of the day, exams don’t and will never define who you are, so just go with the flow and give them your best shot.

The end of the year: Balance, reflection, exams and graduation

By Sophia (Student Blogger: LLB Hons Law)

Every year there are big changes in every person.

As students we have many changes in many parts of our lives.

Before Christmas, we were trying to do our best and most of us were succeeding in many sectors, but after Christmas, almost always something is going to go wrong. From my own experience, I can say that try to have a set program and time for yourself first, so you can be healthy psychologically and physically and, later, if you take care of yourself everything will be ok. You will succeed if you put small goals that lead to the big successful goal.

Trying to be always excellent in every sector of your life will be difficult. Be lenient with yourself, you know your limits and power. If you do not push yourself too hard then you will always have power and strength to continue doing things. All that matters is to be ok mentally and physically. And then you will do better at the academic things.

Feedback can help you to reflect on your year. It is the analysis of your work from professionals. You give a piece of work, your “creation, your baby”, and you are waiting for a specialist to tell you if you need any improvement, or it is ok, or perfect.

University feedback is very important, because from that you can learn many things. Try to accept your mistakes and try to improve yourself so at the end, when you will have exams, you can do your best or in another coursework. Feedback gives us the opportunity to have better communication with our tutor and lecturer. So, this procedure gives opportunity to work better with the department, if any student has some needs the department will help and this continues, and can help lecturers and tutors know if a module needs improvement.

Anything that our departments give us back from our work take it, grab it and try to improve.

Now we arrive at exams… one word that can terrify you.

Every student has their own style of revision. We all want it to be effective and fast but some people panic and think that they will fail. You can take some lessons from everyone. Try to do your best and cultivate yourself from each module. Try to have good communication with lecturers and tutors, so if you need something, they will try to help you.

The secret is not to leave studying until the last minute. Study during the whole academic year, doing weekly or monthly revision for each module and try to have a set program. Program means balance in your life, not being workaholic or “uniholic”. Having good mental and physical health will help you to have a balance, and the word exams will be just a word, and not a difficult procedure.

Some of you will be graduating this year. I know that most of you are happy that you are going to finish and you have new goals to succeed – a job, Master’s degree or academic development, or even travel all over the world.

During your degree you were thinking sometimes if you were doing things right. I think that now the years have passed, you can see that whatever you have been through, it was worthwhile. Why? Because definitely we learnt something. We broadened our horizons and developed ourselves. We are hopefully better human beings.

Sometimes, we cannot see how much we changed and HOW we changed – what were the factors, but definitely, our degrees helped us to change.

Keep changing and change the people next to you. 😊

Managing the juggling act that is third year

by Ruth (Student Blogger: History) 

Ok, so third year is upon us, well actually, we’re now almost through, and if you, like me, are in your final year, things, at the moment, might be getting a little too… much. Slowly assignments and deadlines have built up and late-night library seshes have become your new best friend. It can be hard to prioritise which piece of work, module or reading to put first, but hopefully this list can help you order some of the stress that seems to only be increasing…

  1. The dreaded dissertation.

‘Dissertation’ sounds scary. It’s what you uncertainly whispered in first year, convinced in two years you’d be completely capable of tackling that 10,000 words, and then when second year came around, you started panicking as planning became ever more real. The first things first, is don’t panic, sounds simple right? But, in reality, if you split up your dissertation into sections, it becomes more manageable. Traditionally, dissertations, especially for humanities subjects like mine, are split up into three sections. That’s around 2,000-3,000 words for each, essentially three essays after each other, sandwiched between an introduction and conclusion. Breaking up the dissertation and focusing on each chapter separately really helped me to reduce the fear of the 10,000 words. It also enables you to look closely at each section, making sure the arguments you are making work throughout and have a clear structure within. Allow yourself a timescale of 500 words every other day, or 300 words every day, whatever you find comfortable. For time management, I deliberately always set aside 1-2 days a week on the dissertation allowing me a designated time to read through it, so I wasn’t making haphazard changes in whatever spare five minutes I had. But the biggest help was planning and starting early, getting the majority of your research completed in the summer meant I was able to structure further reading on the plan already forming. Giving yourself a clear timescale for the dissertation allows you to section off other times in order to give proper focus to your modules.

  1. How do I even fit in modules around this??

Not only do you have 10,000 words due in but also about forty other assignments all needing immediate attention. Like the dissertation, the best thing to do is to plan early, if like me you have two essays due in around the same time of your dissertation, allow yourself to start readings early. Make use of your tutors, tell them you’re in your final year, and the other deadlines you have on, see them in their office hours, so you get an idea of what they want from you for your assignments. These expectations will help you structure your work, reducing the editing and proof-reading stage… hopefully!

  1. What about exams!?

The words exams and revision might make you want to curl up in bed with a pillow thrown over your head to avoid thinking about them, especially when assignments are due in before then. However, keeping them in mind will enable you to start planning revision. If your course is more exam focus, plan how many lectures you need to make notes on and maybe agree to revise half of or one lecture a day.  As a result, letting you focus on revising the knowledge in Easter instead of learning the material!

Third year is a tough year, suddenly everything becomes busier, graduation seems too far away but also somehow imminent. The main advice is to mange your time effectively. Cordon off some time to start looking at careers or further study, as well as enjoying your, potentially, last year in Lancaster, giving yourself time to rest and recuperate!

How to ‘do’ third year, first term

by Caitlin (Student Blogger: BA Hons English Language)

There isn’t really a step-by-step guide on how to do third year right – but I can offer you some useful insights into what to expect and how to deal with third year in your first term. My first term in my final year at Lancaster is nearly over, and I can definitely say it’s by far the best but the most stressful.

1. Get organised
I know it’s what EVERYONE always says, but it definitely helps if you have a calendar with all of your upcoming deadlines, a to-do-list and make use of posit notes to remind yourself on things you need to do.

2. Start your dissertation early
This is something I have NOT done and regret it, because at this point in the term I’m swamped with other deadlines and priorities and my dissertation has fallen behind. I cannot recommend enough deciding your topic as early as possible (summer even) and getting started on your literature review and data collection as soon as you can, before other deadlines catch up with you.

3. Start applying to jobs early
This is something I began doing at the start of term, but have also had put on pause due to my deadlines. Lots of graduate job deadlines can be as early as October and November, so make sure you check out the deadlines in advance as job applications can be extremely time consuming (especially grad schemes that involve various tests and online interviews).

4. Prioritise, prioritise, prioritise
With the mountain of things you will have going on in third year – from sports to assignments, job applications to work experience and part-time work to maintaining a social life – prioritising is vital. This ties in with organisation, make sure you know when your deadlines are and order what you should be doing first – because there won’t be a time during first term of final year when you have NOTHING you could be doing.

5. Go out, socialise and do everything you did in previous years
Just because it’s final year, don’t let this scare you into isolation, quitting your sports and not going out with friends. I’ve managed to maintain all of this and revive a society on my own – it’s all about time management and once you get the hard work out of the way, you can reward yourself by going out. Without the de-stress of spending time with friends, going out for food or doing anything sociable, you’ll look back on third year with frustration and stress. It doesn’t have to be like that.

6. Get a break from uni
This is something that I only recently discovered – that staying in the ‘uni campus bubble’ is not productive and definitely does not motivate you to get your work done. Get out of Lancaster every once in a while, – catch a train to Manchester, go on a drive to the lakes with a friend or get a bus to Blackpool. Sometimes a day off from work, stress and Lancaster is all you need to motivate you.