Monthly Archives

October 2014

Dissertation without desperation

By | Coaching in Education, University student's advice

Many undergraduate courses require students to write a dissertation in their final year. The exact length and specifications varies between departments and universities, but as a rough guide, these are in-depth pieces of work between 8,000 and 10,000 words long. Sometimes it is possible to submit work in an alternative format, such as website or video.  Natalie Lancer from MyUniApplication explains how to tackle your dissertation.

The dissertation is probably the hardest and most rewarding part of your course. This is your opportunity to showcase your interest, knowledge and skills of analysis, not only to your tutors who will mark the work, but to potential employers, who will be interested in these skills too. Your dissertation is an excellent example of your work and originality. If possible, choose a topic with an eye on both your course requirements and what potential employers may find interesting.

You will be assigned a dissertation tutor and will have individual tutorials to discuss the title and structure. You will also be able to submit chapters for them to read and offer feedback on, which you can improve if necessary. Make sure you are clear from the outset how much time you are allocated and how far in advance they would like work submitted. It is up to you to get the most from your tutor. Your tutor will have had much experience in supervising dissertations and may have lots of tips as well as knowledge of what works and what is achievable within your time and word limit. They will also advise how to apportion your words to each section.

One of the hardest parts of the dissertation is deciding what to write about. Over your undergraduate course you have been exposed to new ideas and frameworks within your discipline, and you may be encouraged to explore these further or to apply them to a topic of your choice. It is a good idea to keep an ‘ideas list’ going over the course of your degree. Every time you come across a concept that makes your want to find out more, if only you had the time, write it on this working document. When you come to thinking about your dissertation, you can refer to this list and decide which of these topics to ‘work up’. ‘Working up’ means coming up with a way to analyse the topic, a structure and a direction. Your tutor will help you with this, but to get started see the box below and write down your responses to the headings.

In your dissertation you should be presenting a lively, logical, creative and well-researched argument. In order to do this you need to have read lots of relevant articles and books. Your tutor may start you off and suggest some reading material, but after that it is up to you to use an academic search engine such as Google Scholar to find relevant articles. Both the finding of relevant articles and the reading of them takes time and cannot be rushed. Use the abstract (summary) at the top of each article to check if it is really relevant and worth reading. Keep a log of everything you read and brief notes about the paper. There are many internet based tools that can help you do this which are worth learning to use as it will save you time in the long run, such as EndNote and Zotero. Your librarians will help you with this and your university will provide free versions to use (some of them are free anyway).

Once you have got your head round what the main academics say about your topic, you can decide what approach you should take to designing your study. This is where your tutor will be invaluable. If you are undertaking empirical research (gathering primary data), you need to get ethical approval from your university. You can start writing the Introduction, Literature Review and Methodology before you collect your data. Once you have analysed your data you can write the remaining chapters: the Analysis, Discussion and Conclusion. Break the writing into chunks and set yourself time specific achievable goals, such as “I will have written the Introduction by next Tuesday”. Plan out the whole dissertation to make sure you have enough time to read, write, analyse and proofread.

Unlike essays you may have written in the past, it is advisable to use heading and subheadings to help your reader navigate around your dissertation. Your university will have strict formatting guidelines, such as which academic referencing style to use, whether the work should be double-spaced, the font size and how it should be bound, if at all. Furthermore, there are academic rules to follow such as indenting quotations if they are more than 20 words long to which you must adhere. There are strict rules on plagiarism and dissertations have been failed if they are in breach of these rules. Basically, if you are quoting or paraphrasing someone else’s ideas then you must put their names in brackets afterwards.  Remember, we are interested in how you are using existing ideas and bringing them together in your unique way to shed light on your particular subject matter. Formatting takes time, so make sure you build this in to your planning.

Your work needs to be carefully proofread. The best person to do this is you. After you write you last draft, put it away for a couple of weeks. Look at it again with fresh eyes and you will clearly see any mistakes. Plan your writing to allow yourself two weeks to spare at the end. Presentation is important, and gives your work a professional feel – remember you are showcasing your work to employees too, so it is worth spending time on this. Find out how to submit your dissertation and make sure you don’t leave it until the final day, just in case the internet crashes, or you lose your computer. Finally, make loads of back ups of your work everyday on different memory sticks so that if your computer fails, you have not lost your work.

Natalie is the founder of and MyUniApplication. She can discuss your university and career options in one-to-one sessions and give you expert guidance on your dissertation and job applications. For more information, contact Natalie Lancer on 01923 85 0781 or at

Working up your dissertation – Write down your responses to the following and you will have a structure to your dissertation in no time!

The Title – don’t worry too much about this at the beginning. Just use a working title – you can always change it. The title should make clear what the dissertation is about in a short and pithy statement.

Introduction and Aims – this should explain what your dissertation is all about. In your introduction you should establish the boundaries of the research, e.g. are you focussing only on Wind Farms in the UK or in Scotland? Explain your purpose, aims, your approach and the significance of the research clearly. You may have specific questions that you are answering or you may be exploring a topic. Explain the structure of your dissertation and an overview of the contents of each section.

It is useful to have a literature review chapter. You will get marks for both breadth and depth. You need to demonstrate that you understand what you have read and why it is relevant to your dissertation and argument. Maybe you can pick holes in other people’s work to show how you can adopt a critical academic stance?

You will need a chapter on methodology and methods. Have you used a qualitative (descriptive) or quantitative (numerical) methodology and which exact methods have your used, e.g., interviews, questionnaires? How did you choose and design these? Could you have used another method, in hindsight, would that have been more or less useful?

You will then present an Analysis and Discussion of your findings. How do the findings result to the literature review. What new information or new stance have you brought to light? This is where we really hear your unique voice and can see what you have contributed to academic scholarship in your area.

The conclusion is where you pull it all together. You explain how you have met your original aims, the strengths and limitations of the research and possible avenues for further research around this topic.

Most important lesson for year 13

By | Coaching in Education, University advice

Revision tips for the final school year

For those students taking A-levels, Year 13 is your most important year at school. It is the year that you have to really knuckle down to ensure you get the best grades of which you are capable. Natalie Lancer from and MyUniApplication offers revision tips to help you on your way.

Year 13 revision is a marathon and not a sprint. In Year 12, you may have got away with cramming at the end of the year, and doing fairly well in your AS levels. However, this is because questions at this level are based on short answers. If you couldn’t do a question and you left it out, you probably wasted up to six marks. Depending on your subjects, at A2 level, leaving out a question might be worth 24 marks, which could cost you several grades. You are required to write long answers or perform multi-part calculations. You cannot rely on a basic knowledge of the subject.

So how do you approach this? Firstly, make sure you have a number of exam board-specific study guides/text books for you to consult at home. Some books will be more helpful than others for certain sections of your syllabus, or may explain something in a more meaningful way to you. It is important that you know where to look for information and to feel confident in using your books to help you understand your subject fully.

Secondly, download a syllabus from your exam board website and make sure you understand the structure of your exams. Ask your teacher which options they have decided to teach you, where options exist.  Each week, read the topic you are studying at school in advance so that you have an idea about what to expect. This means that when you are in the lesson, you do not come to the topic ‘cold’. You will be able to process what is being said at a higher level and you will be able to remember it more effectively.

Create a system of making notes in the lesson, abbreviating words to help you write faster. Leave enough space in the margins and between each section so that you can supplement it with information from your study guides at home. You may like to write your notes on a laptop if you are allowed, as this facilitates adding notes at a later stage.  At the end of each day, read your notes as this will help you learn them. If you do not understand something, look it up or ask your teacher. Make sure you understand everything as you go along – don’t leave it until the end of the course. The trick is to make your notes comprehensive and well-laid out at the point of writing them so that you do not have to spend time making new notes near the time of your exam.

Start learning the material when you have some bulk time – maybe in the holidays. When you are ready to learn the material, make sure you have no distractions – turn off your phone and your internet. You do not need the internet to revise! Work for forty minutes at a time and then have a ten minute break. During the forty minutes, focus all your attention on being able to recall the material, and understand key terms and concepts. There are a number of ways you can learn the material – write out points on flashcards, create mind maps, develop special phrases to help you remember a sequence of important words or record the notes onto your phone and listen to them wherever you go.

Once you have proved to yourself that you know your stuff, by writing it out or saying it out loud, do a past paper. You should know enough information so that you can write for the full amount of time. Ask your teachers to mark these and to give you detailed feedback. If possible, try to sit down with them outside of lesson time to tell you what worked well and how you can improve. Write the feedback down and next time you do a paper, check the items off the list to make sure you have addressed all points.

In the January before your exams, make a realistic revision timetable so you know how long you have to learn everything. In the weeks running up to the exam, all your energy must be spent on learning your notes and practising past papers. Avoid having late nights – it is important that you are totally fresh for each revision session.  There will be plenty of time to go out with your friends after your exams and your friends will be revising anyway.

Natalie is the founder of and MyUniApplication. She can discuss your university and career options in one-to-one sessions and give you expert guidance on your personal statement and revision techniques. For more information, contact Natalie Lancer on 01923 85 0781 , 07747 612 513 or at

Natalie’s top tips for Year 13 Revision

  • Buy a selection of study guides/text books for home use
  • Make sure your system of making notes is robust
  • Use different ways to learn the material
  • Practice applying your knowledge using past papers
  • Get and act on feedback from your teacher
  • Make a revision timetable
  • Focus on your end goal – getting the best grades you can
  • If you feel your revision techniques aren’t benefitting you, contact a professional for advice.


Want a first? Try Coaching

By | Coaching in Education, University student's advice

Company executives have been coached since the 1980s. The focus is to increase performance by maximising what the employee brings to their role. The idea of coaching is simple: the coach, who should be accredited by a relevant professional body, should help the client unlock something within the client. Maybe the client has become stuck in some way or needs to make sense of a situation. The coach merely facilities this process, and helps the client to generate their own ideas, goals and solutions, thus avoiding a directive approach.  Coaching is different to mentoring which refers to a more experienced person guiding a less experienced person in the same field, whereas counselling is about making sense of past experiences to illuminate the present.

Applying coaching to education is relatively recent, more often applied to coaching teachers rather than students. However, coaching in education has been the focus of a recent conference run by the European Mentoring and Coaching Council and is also the focus of my PhD and private business, Lancer Coaching. The solution-focussed approach of coaching, with its emphasis on students formulating their own future plans, is in contrast to more traditional, teacher-owned academic advice.

The client takes ownership of the sessions and decides what the focus of each one should be. Possible topics might include getting the most out of school/university, starting a new school, career plans, choosing courses, managing workload, maintaining motivation and managing difficult relationships. An example could be a student, who wants to discuss how to make their goal of achieving a first class degree, a reality.  The coach would help the client to break down the overall goal into subgoals, evaluate options for achieving them and devise a time bound action plan. Each subgoal might be the focus of subsequent sessions. The coach will hold the client to account for agreed upon actions.

Of course, coaching techniques can be used in a variety of settings, and is particularly helpful when helping adults make career choices at transition points such as when women evaluate their options after having children, or after their children have left home. Some people will want to upskill – doing a course, perhaps a Master’s degree, in a new discipline. Others need to make some new connections via their existing networks and be proactive in telling people what they want to do. Coaching is also useful when employees aspire to a promotion and want to think through their strategy.

In my Psychology PhD, I am investigating what impact coaching can have on undergraduate students’ values, sense of self, key relationships, academic performance and life plans compared to those who do not have coaching sessions. I have had an overwhelming response from student volunteers and from volunteer coaches. The students will have six coaching sessions this academic year and I will interview before coaching commences, at the mid and end points and 6 months after the last session. This will help to illuminate whether coaching has any lasting impact.

Have you got some goals that you need some help working towards? Do you think you would benefit from coaching? Natalie is available for one-to-one coaching sessions for individuals of any age. She also does corporate coaching.  For more information, contact Natalie Lancer at or 01923 85 0781.