Reduced Exam Burden:
Optional dissertations typically replace one examined paper. This means that you will have less material to revise in exam term, and so the revision that you do have to do can be more thorough. What’s more, dissertations are typically due a few weeks before exams start, so dissertation preparation shouldn’t interrupt last-minute revision.
‘Spillovers’ with exams:
If your dissertation is on a topic that you are also being examined on, then you will be able to draw on an advanced body of knowledge that most others won’t. This is very impressive to examiners, who tire of seeing lecture notes reproduced hundreds of times. They often reward (appropriate) depth of knowledge suitably. CV material: Most employers will be familiar with the skills that a degree should give you. But a dissertation is something very different from the lecture-revision-exam modules that make up 90% of a degree. In particular, a dissertation can be a huge plus on your CV and at interview:
Taking on an individual research project requires discipline, time management, motivation as well as creativity. Doing a dissertation will help you develop these skills and might make you more successful once you graduate and enter the world of work.
Dissertations are far more likely to be discussed in a job interview than a normal module. Employers increasingly use ‘competency-based interviewing’ of the sort: ‘give an example of a time when <you demonstrated this quality we are looking for>’. A dissertation where you had to manage and motivate yourself is often an excellent way to demonstrate that you have the skills which employers are looking for.
‘Work experience’ – Academia:
A dissertation should be treated as a ‘mini’ academic paper, of the sort that might appear in publication such as the Economic Journal. As such, the process of doing a dissertation is the closest thing that you can have as ‘work experience’ for being an academic. Of course, only a tiny proportion of undergraduates go into academia, and even those who do not often enjoy doing the dissertation in itself.
Doing a dissertation is a tiring and gruelling process (see the next page). But the flip side of this is if you do it well you will be proud of the product. Talk to final year students about their dissertations. There will be some who don’t shut up about it. Sad? Maybe. But clearly, these people have got a lot out of doing one.