Politics and International Relations undergraduate dissertation retreat

In this post, MA Hons International Relations students, Betzy Hänninen and Abrahim Assaily, describe their experience of attending an undergraduate dissertation writing retreat, funded by the Student Partnership Agreement…. 

During the Festival of Creative Learning week, 20 students and six faculty staff set off to the Wiston Lodge in Biggar, to attend this year’s dissertation retreat for the fourth year Politics and International Relations undergraduate students. We were all excited as we entered the bus, and curious about what the following two days would bring. We expected it to be a useful few days, but we had no idea how much fun it would be as well. It was a great opportunity to meet other students that we never previously had the chance to get to know, and it was a great chance to interact with faculty staff too.

The main attraction of the retreat was, of course, the dissertation workshops with the professors, who deserve praise for their time and patience helping 20 stressed and neurotic students. There were three and a half workshops offered. Each of these had two professors who sat with a group of 6-8 students and helped them through different steps of the dissertation process.

The first of these was a ‘research question help’ session. The two, very patient, professors went meticulously through each student’s question, pushing them to better their questions. The second workshop was a ‘research methods and theory’ session. In this, the two professors helped to shine a light on the often ignored and disliked, yet key, sections of the dissertation. The final proper session was possibly the most important. In this session, the professors helped students with tips on how to deal with stress, time management, and how to ‘make it through the dissertation’. In addition to the proper workshops, ‘open surgery sessions’ were offered, where professors worked one-on-one with students to better their dissertations.

At the retreat, we were also offered opportunities to work independently of the academic staff. This peer-to-peer work encouraged students to discuss their research questions and their dissertation plans. Although the aforementioned workshops with the professors were very helpful, it was actually in the more relaxed and open environment of the peer-to-peer work that much of the work took place. Many students re-worked, or even formulated, their research questions with the help of their peers. It was during this time that I changed my topic from a more specific study to one that is more general, after the recommendation of a fellow student.

After a long day with filled with workshops, we had the evening off, and could enjoy a wide range of activities. Some of us joined an exciting round of the board game Cranium, and research questions, literature reviews and theoretical framework were traded for drawings, miming and trivia. The night ended with the students playing mafia/werewolf into the early hours.

On the second day, we were given the opportunity to go on a hike. About ten students and two faculty staff decided to attempt to climb the Tinto Hill. After about 45 minutes, we reached the top of the Crag, and, despite a lot of fog, we managed to get a beautiful view of the area. The other group of students stayed at the estate, and went for a leisurely walk in the local forest.

Overall, it was a very successful treat, and we are sure we speak for most of the students there when we say that it was very helpful to get such close follow up from the faculty staff, and have discussions with fellow students.

To all our fellow final year students: we wish you all the best with your dissertations, and good luck with whatever you are doing next year. Thank you for four great years at The University of Edinburgh.

With a special thanks to the Student Partnership Agreement fund for supporting this event and making it possible for so many students to take part.

Read another student blog post about their experience of a staff and student writing retreat: 

Betzy Hänninen

Betzy Hänninen is a MA Hons International Relations student.

Abrahim Assaily

Abrahim Assaily is a MA Hons International Relations student

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