Are there alternatives to the traditional dissertation?

The University of Edinburgh is currently part of a cross university project to provide more opportunities for students to do work based projects (WBPs) as an alternative to a traditional university based dissertation.students

WBPs can take a variety of formats and the amount of student involvement with the external organisation may be anything from a few skype meetings to a full time 8 week placement. In most cases, the final output follows a similar structure to a traditional dissertation.

The rationale behind WBPs is to give students the chance to work on a ‘real world’ project that will have real impact for an organisation and enhance employability. As one student summarised

“It was really inspiring and motivational to be working with an organisation which was doing so much work in the sector that I wanted to work in. It definitely boosted my confidence as it got me used to working in an office environment and meeting people in the sector.”

A surprising finding to date is that whilst there are many organisations keen to put forward proposals for WBPs, students are less keen. We thought students would be crying out to take part but have found that this is not the case.

We have a couple of theories as to why this is the case:

1. WBPs are seen as a risky option. More can go wrong when you’re dealing with a live project as opposed to desk based one.

2. Many people doing masters programmes have specific ideas about their dissertation topic and this often does not fit with what organisations are offering.

3. As this is a relatively new concept, many students simply do not know about it and are unsure about doing something which differs from ‘the norm’.