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Durham University

School of Modern Languages & Cultures

Dissertation in Modern Languages & Cultures

MELA3161 Dissertation in Modern Languages and Cultures (20 credits)

MELA3152 Extended Dissertation in Modern Languages and Cultures (40 credits)


About this Module

The Dissertation aims to provide students with an opportunity to engage at the highest intellectual level with the ethos of research-led learning that is central to Durham’s strategy for learning and teaching. During your studies in years 1 and 2 you will have been working with diverse and novel ways of approaching a range of subjects and issues, and will have seen that your tutors are setting out advanced intellectual agendas across many periods, cultures, and disciplines. In developing and completing an extended piece of original work, you will participate in and contribute to the distinctive research culture of the School of Modern Languages and Cultures. While the subject of the Dissertation must intersect with the research expertise and interests of the staff, we welcome and encourage original and innovative proposals from students.

The module is available in two forms: a 20-credit version (8,000 words) and an extended 40-credit version (12,000 words). Students who are studying one language at Level 3 of the BA in MLAC must do the 40-credit Dissertation; those doing two languages may choose between 20-credit and 40-credit. Neither variant is available to students taking a Dissertation in any other department.

Learning and Supervision

Undertaking the Dissertation will give you crucial experience in the planning, researching and writing of an extended piece of work counting for 100% of the module mark. It gives you a high degree of autonomy in defining your own research question and aims, finding an appropriate method, selecting suitable resources, organising the time that you devote to the project, and seeking and responding to feedback from your supervisor. The academic skills of managing an extended project, collecting and analysing information, critically assessing sources and arguments, communicating your findings clearly and persuasively according to professional presentational requirements, and showing intellectual creativity and problem-solving ability are all central to the graduate attributes you are expected to demonstrate at the end of a degree programme (see the Undergraduate Level Descriptors in the University's Core Regulations). They are also important transferable skills which are highly valued by employers. The Dissertation also provides invaluable practice for those of you who plan to progress to postgraduate study.

Your research will be supported by a designated supervisor or, in some cases, a supervisory team. These will be specialists, publishing internationally recognized books and articles in their research fields. Their role will be to guide and nurture your research ideas by recommending areas in which you should target your reading. They will also assess the methodological, conceptual and structural validity of your approach to your topic, and encourage you to engage with broader theoretical and interdisciplinary agendas, as appropriate. Your Dissertation supervisor will also act as your Academic Advisor in the final year, so your supervisory meetings should include some discussion of your overall academic progress during the year.

Pre-requisites and Co-requisites

Check the pre-requisites and co-requisites for the Dissertation in the relevant module outline in the Faculty Handbook. The relevant cultural module that you need to take alongside your Dissertation does not need to be from the same language area; its relevance may be to do with the cultural forms analysed or the kinds of issues addressed.

Devising a Topic

When devising a topic, think about the areas of interest that you have encountered during the course of your studies in years 1 and 2, or about topics that could potentially interest you in the final-year modules you intend to take.

The process of dissertation allocation begins in the third term of your year abroad, when students submit two 100-word proposals, outlining two distinct topics on which they would like to work. In order to facilitate the allocation of supervisors, these proposals must be substantially differentiated from one another, and will need to correspond to areas of specialism of two different MLAC research staff, as set out in the list on the School website. You will also be required to specify the final-year option that will serve as the co-requisite module for each of your proposals; this may often be a module taught by your proposed supervisor, but not necessarily. Students must submit the online dissertation proposal form by a deadline towards the end of Easter term. A list of research staff available for dissertation supervision in any given year can be found here, along with a description of the areas in which they are willing to supervise. Students will be informed of their allocation in early July, at which point they should contact their allocated supervisor to discuss provisional reading.

When you return to Durham in your final year, your topic will be firmed up through discussions with your allocated supervisor and your title will be approved early in Michaelmas term. You will submit your dissertation in the first week of the third term.

Teaching, Learning, and Formative and Summative Assessment

Full details of the supervision contact hours and the requirements for formative and summative assessment are given in the relevant module outline in the Faculty Handbook.

In addition to a series of dissertation skills and methodology lectures in the Michaelmas term, over the course of the academic year you will receive one-on-one tutorials with your supervisor, which in some cases, where appropriate, may be combined with small-group seminars (for example, when there are two or three students working on similar topics). You will be responsible for keeping a written record of each supervision meeting, to be sent to your supervisor for further comment.

In the Michaelmas term, you will be required to submit a research plan for formative feedback, comprising a draft abstract, an outline of the proposed structure of the dissertation and an annotated bibliography. You will also need to highlight any potential ethical issues posed by your research. Further details of what these might look like are outlined in the dissertation handbook, available on DUO. In Epiphany, you will submit extracts from your dissertation for formative feedback, which your supervisor will provide orally and in writing. It is your responsibility to agree deadlines for formative work with your supervisor, meet those deadlines and attend supervision meetings. Failure to do so will be subject to the School’s Academic Progression procedures.

Normal procedures for the submission of summative coursework apply, including those referring to applications for extensions - which can only be approved by the Chair of the Board of Examiners. You should alert your supervisor at an early stage to any circumstances that affect your ability to meet the formative and summative assessment requirements.

In assessing the Dissertation, consideration will be given to your ability to assimilate, understand and critically analyse primary and secondary materials; to select, evaluate and make effective use of appropriate sources; to present a sustained argument on the basis of appropriate evidence and examples; to express yourself fluently and accurately; and to apply correctly the norms and conventions of scholarly referencing.