Most fourth-years at the minute will be smack bang in the middle of their dissertations; you will find them inhabiting the fourth floor of the library, the ones whose eyes are devoid of any joy. Should you find yourself talking to one of your fourth-year pals, here’s a little guide on what not to say to get through that conversation smoothly and avoid any casualties.
1. “So, how’s your dissertation going?”
This is a completely fine question coming from other fourth-year students doing their dissertation because you can bounce your ideas and concerns off them, but other than that there is no reasonable answer to this question. Even if your dissertation is going totally fine, you never feel like it’s going totally fine, you feel like a dog sat at a human desk typing human things in an office and wondering why no one has raised an eyebrow yet. So you huff and joke, “Don’t ask!” With a weak laugh while you cry on the inside.
2. “What is your dissertation on?”
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate your interest. I understand that this is regular small talk, but every time someone asks me it feels like they’ve just sapped all the energy out of me. Mainly because hearing myself trying to explain what I’m doing makes me realise how little clue I have about what I’m doing. Maybe that’s just me because my mouth is bad at forming coherent sentences.
3. “What are your plans for after graduation?”
See also: “Are you applying for a Masters/Internship?”/ “Have you applied for any jobs yet?”/ “Are you going to be a *insert ideal industry job here* then?”
I don’t know, generic relative. I don’t even know what my plans are for dinner because I’ve been reading academic rubbish that I don’t understand all day and forgotten to eat. At this point, graduation itself feels like a lifetime away but also a terrifyingly close impending doom at the same time. It seems like there’s no correct answer to this either and people are going to judge you either way. Maybe I’ll blunder about for a bit and figure it out a few years down the line, and that’s totally okay too.
4. “Fancy going out tonight?”
Yes. God, yes, energetic second-year pal. Do I have any free time ever? No. Yes, it is a shame I never go out anymore, make some jokes at the expense of my new unsociable hermit life, ha ha ha. Just wait until I’ve handed in my dissertation and I’ll go on a week-long bender to make up for a semester’s lack of drinking. (That’s a complete lie, I will sit in my pyjamas on the couch wrapped in a blanket binge-watching all the Netflix shows I haven’t been able to for the past eternity.)
5. (From fellow dissertation pals) “I’ve done a full first draft with 60 references, I hope it’s enough. How much have you done?”
Me: Has a few thousands words stretching 20 references at best.
Also me: “Oh, about the same! Should be enough…”
In all seriousness though, I’m really glad you’re doing so well and you should 100% be proud of yourself. But also, fuck you.
6. “You look tired.” / “Are you eating okay?”
Thanks. Appreciate it. No, genuinely, I appreciate the concern but I’m already aware I look like a Walking Dead extra and I’d rather pretend that no one else has noticed. The bags under my eyes are just holding all the held-back stress tears, no biggie.
7. “You’ve got plenty of time, stop stressing.”
Oh OK, I’ll just stop stressing, of course, that’s so simple. The fabric of time unravels during this semester and everything feels immediate and ages away all at once. I may have plenty of time, but the amount of work I have to do in that time really feels like no time at all. Also, telling someone to “stop stressing” is about as useful as telling someone to “calm down” in an argument, and the same Hulk-like demon will be unleashed.
8. “There’s not much work going in that industry right now.”
Really, we love hearing about how we have 0 job prospects when we graduate.
9. “Only a couple of months until it’s all done!”
As exciting as that is, it is also absolutely terrifying. I’ve somehow got to write a full dissertation in a seemingly short amount of time, and then I leave the place I’ve called home for the past four years and have been able to develop in a safe environment, to then jump into the abyss that is “the real world” with a piece of paper saying “I Have Read Things and Then Wrote About Them, Please Hire Me.” and find a whole new home. Change is brilliant, but scary.
10. “Shouldn’t you be studying?”
Yes, Barbara, maybe I should but right now I’m playing a disgusting amount of The Sims in bed. Sometimes your brain just needs a break from reading pretentious academics from the 70s to focus on dumb stuff, like trapping my sim in four walls to kill her so her son gets all the money and can get a bigger place, except she refuses to die because she has an obscene amount of vegetables in her inventory that she keeps snacking on!
Obviously, this is a mild exaggeration and we’re not really all twitching dissertation gremlins. But if you don’t poke a bit of fun at it and laugh, you’ll just cry.