Dissertation Diaries | Entry 1

I am so sorry for taking a week long hiatus as a result of my birthday.  I was lucky enough to celebrate with my parents and a few friends at Tinseltown.  More details to come in my monthly memories. 

In the UK, dissertations/thesis are a very common practice at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels.  During my bachelors, I undertook a lab-based dissertation project wherein I worked in the lab from sometimes 7:30am-5:00pm.  If you've worked in a lab before, you know that it is a struggle especially working with very small concentrations that are naked to the human eye.  Although I've changed paths from hard-science to social sciences, more often than not I do miss laboratories and molecular medicine. 

On a happier note, I did get my first choice and dream dissertation project.  We have 4 months to complete this which demonstrates the intensity and time required to do well.  As I'm unsure of how much detail I'm allowed to share, here is the gist: it involves using vaccine coverage data of 195 countries to determine why vaccine-specific country-level coverage varies as it does over a period of time and predicting future vaccine coverage levels of these regions.  We aim to look at about 10 vaccinations and analyse the data in accordance to demographics and GDP levels of the 195 countries.   

Evidently, there is a lot of data to work with.  On top of that, I am to learn a new statistical programming language called 'R'.  We were trained in STATA throughout the year but it seems that R is that bit more powerful and sought after by employers which was another incentive for me to pick this project.  Overall, however, the driving force for me to pick this topic was because I have always had an avid interest in immunisations/vaccinations which is a field of research I could see myself working in. 

Given that this project does not require anything bar a desktop/laptop with R, I have the blessing and curse of working from home.  This means that I am more prone to procrastination and my project is arguably a bit 'dull' in comparison to those who are travelling and conducting surveys in exotic countries such as Uganda or Ghana.  Nevertheless, I myself, am very very happy with the nature of my project as it will teach me R, data analysis and handling, discipline, and quantitative explanations to variations in vaccine coverage. 

Advice for anyone choosing topics for their dissertation:
  1. Pick a topic you can see yourself working in.  This will provide innate motivation to do well and excel in your project. 
  2. Learn new skills.  If your research topic gives you a chance to learn new and important skills, there is no better time to acquire that knowledge than now with academic support available. 
  3. Supervisors are important.  I am very blessed that my supervisor is as involved in the project as myself and is willing to meet in accordance to my schedules.  In addition, my supervisor is aiming for top marks as much as myself.  
  4. Discipline is vital.  Work on your project everyday if possible and give yourself the weekend off.  This will ensure that you do not need to scramble last minute before meetings or deadlines to produce sloppy work.  

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