Motivational Emails and PG Dissertations: By now you should have written 1000 words!. Kathy Boxall Department of Sociological Studies firstname.lastname@example.org. Motivational Emails and PG Dissertations: By now you should have written 1000 words!. Session abstract:
Department of Sociological Studies
In 2010-11, ‘motivational emails’ were introduced as part of the MA Social Work (MASW) with a view to providing information for students and colleagues regarding new requirements for the dissertation and motivating students to make regular progress in completing work for their dissertations. Emails were sent on a regular basis to all MASW students registered for the dissertation module and to all staff supervising MASW dissertations. This presentation will describe the content of some of the emails, the process of their introduction, advantages and disadvantages of the approach and feedback from students and staff. It will also raise questions about the ‘distance’ between student and supervisor when electronic means of supervision are employed and the risks and opportunities of such approaches. The presentation will conclude by arguing that although whole group motivational emails can provide a supportive framework for both students and supervisors they are no substitute for individual supervision.
Why will colleagues be interested in this session? How could they adapt the ideas?
Dissertation supervisors, library staff and programme administrators may wish to adapt these ideas to their area of work. IT staff may be able to ‘automate’ the emails or arrange for them to be sent as text messages! I also hope there will be some discussion and ideas from the audience.
My aim for each email was to:
4th October 2011
Dear MASW2 Student
I hope you’ve enjoyed the recent good weather and you're making good progress with your dissertation. By now you should definitely have started writing and have your first draft chapter underway. Working on your dissertation two or three full days per week, you should aim to write approximately 1000 words per week ….
1st November 2011
Dear MASW2 StudentI hope you’re getting on OK with writing your dissertation. If you’re anything like me, you will have good writing days and bad writing days; and absolutely awful writing days! The important thing is to keep your spirits up and keep on writing.Carol Smart, a professor at Manchester University who's written loads of papers and books, has made a really helpful video about her experiences of writing. If your writing isn’t going so well at the moment, you may find it helpful to watch Carol’s video:
2nd December 2011
Dear MASW2 Student
I hope you are making good progress with your dissertation. Now is the time to really focus on dissertation writing and try and pull everything together for Part A. Having a spurt of writing activity before the holiday will mean that you enjoy the holiday break and festivities that bit more, knowing that you have done your best to write as much as you can beforehand.
If you don’t feel you are making enough progress, try not to worry, but do get in touch with your supervisor and ask them for advice (I’ve copied all the supervisors into this message, so they won’t be surprised to hear from you, even if you haven’t been in touch for a while).
21st December 2011
[….]if you are feeling overwhelmed by the dissertation task, the best thing you can do is take a few days rest and try and relax over Christmas. … As I said in the dissertation workshop, it really won’t be the end of the world if you are unable to complete your dissertation by the deadline (Tuesday 7th February 2012) – there are other options (an extension, or just submitting what you have been able to do, even though it may not be complete).
If you think you may need to go for one of these options, please email your dissertation supervisor and ask for an appointment to discuss this in the New Year.
I think it depends on the type of person you are, but for me the anonymity of the motivational emails gives me no incentive to read them, whereas if I received a personal email from my supervisor I would feel much more motivated because it would relate specifically to my work and I would feel obliged to respond.
The information overload we receive through junk mail, adverts popping up on screen demanding our attention and the internet in general means that I will only bother to read something which is relevant to me specifically, particularly if it is more than a sentence long.
Speaking as someone who has been struggling with my dissertation, I have to say that since one of your first emails stating that we "should" have a draft by December and a certain number of words by a certain date, I have not opened any of your emails apart from this one (partly because it had request for help in the title!). Rather than motivational, I found the email to be quite scary and created panic and stress for me at a time that was already quite stressful. I'm sure this is not everyone's experience of these emails, but I do think thought needs to be given to those people who may not be progressing (with their dissertation) at the same rate as everyone else and I don't think these emails are for everyone...
I often didn't read their full contents because I felt that I was meeting my own targets for where I was up to with my dissertations. This was fine, in that an email is a non-intrusive way of prodding us - i.e. you can just move/ignore/delete it if you're not interested.
Occasionally when I did read it though there was actually some information that was helpful, not motivationally but practically - I wonder if there's a way to ensure that students who are not reading the emails (either because they are feeling self-motivated or because they can't face seeing how behind they are) DO read the important information that they sometimes contain.
I'll admit that one or two I never opened as I was scared about what they were going to say and as they say ignorance is bliss! You need not have written anything in these emails at all...a blank email merely titled 'Motivational Email' was enough to panic me into writing!
However it was a pleasant surprise to read your emails and find them A. not as scary as I thought they might be and B. actually helpful and reminded me that all the worries, anxieties, procrastination and ''writers block'' that I was experiencing are all common to people undertaking this sort of academic challenge, which made me feel not so alone. So thank you for that.