The discussion I participated in on #uklibchat on Twitter last week (1st October – agenda here) got me thinking, not only about the value of the MA LIS in general (some of my thoughts on the course at UCL can be found below), but on the value of the dissertation. One of the questions explored whether it is relevant to employers whether graduates have an MA, MSc or PG-Dip and it got me thinking how important the dissertation really is. I completed the dissertation at UCL and therefore will (hopefully) be gaining the MA. To me the decision was easy – the dissertation is of value, in my opinion, not only to employers, but also to the student in question. What I mean by this is not that I think most employers will discount graduates who have a PG Dip as opposed to an MA, but rather that having the MA can help to increase your chances. One of my fellow students only completed the PG Dip and she now holds a professional post, so it clearly didn’t harm her career prospects. Nonetheless, I stick by my assertion that completing the dissertation is the better route.
My reasons for this belief that the dissertation should be an integral part of the qualification are this:
1. Completing the dissertation shows dedication to a project, as well as relevant skills such as time management, working on your own initiative, and a variety of research skills which, in our profession, are highly relevant. I know that many of these skills can be developed through the assignments during the course, but the dissertation proves that students can go the extra mile.
2. Undertaking the dissertation shows a dedication, enthusiasm and interest in a particular area or topic which can be highly relevant to your future career. Not only does it benefit the student by allowing them to explore a topic they are extremely interested in, but it can also help students, in the choosing of such a topic, to clarify for themselves in which area of LIS they are interested. The value of this cannot be under-rated on courses which are generally broad reaching. Furthermore, I think that if the topic chosen really is of interest to the student, then the dissertation can actually be enjoyable. I’m not saying I enjoyed every minute of mine – it was stressful at times, very time-consuming and at times I resented doing it, but ultimately I wouldn’t change my decision.
3. The dissertation could well (and I deliberately say “could”, not “will”) help you to land your first professional role. Applying for a job which you can show you are enthusiastic and passionate about, through a relevant dissertation topic, hugely increases your chances of success. I’m not saying that it’s always relevant, but, certainly in my case, I was appointed to my first professional post partly because the subject of my dissertation addressed the way in which the institution is hoping my role will develop. Similarly, one of my friends has just been appointed to a job based largely on the subject of her dissertation.
This is not to say that the dissertation is necessarily an essential part of the MA. I understand from the reactions on Twitter during #uklibchat that many people think the PG Dip is enough to gain a professional post, and if it worked for them then who am I to argue? However, I remain convinced, from the point of view of my personal career, that completing the dissertation was the right route to follow.