My dissertation: the end of an era

Victoria Williams


The scene: me, typing furiously at my desk. My hair is in a scrunchie I’ve owned since the 90s and I am wearing the jumper I bought in a Peruvian market back when I was a gap yah traveller with nothing more to worry about than whether anyone would understand my appalling Spanish. I am working my way through a family pack of biscuits and it feels like my right eye is about to start twitching.

The reason: my dissertation draft is due in an hour. I have not learned from my mistakes and have left my bibliography until last. Thanks, past me, for the jumble of citations and notes.

Yes, it’s deadline season.

Illustration: Victoria Williams

I’m lucky in that my dissertation has been a lot less stressful than I feel it should be – I haven’t pulled an all-nighter in the library and I’ve only cried down the phone to my mum once – but there’s no denying tension is on the rise on campus. While students are still flocking to Club I on a Thursday, it’s now with declarations to friends like “I should really be writing my essay”, “I’m going to be so productive tomorrow”, and “Oh God I shouldn’t be going out”. It’s even harder than usual to find a seat in the library. People are actually turning up to seminars.

To make things even more intense, it seems that the busier you are and the harder you work the faster the time goes. I’m sure it was only the other day that I gave my draft in and thought “I have a whole month to perfect it” but I have been assured that the hand-in is next week. I’m now almost expecting to blink and find myself sat in the exam hall trying to remember who wrote the paper about baboons that I want to discuss. Then it will be time for all of us in our final year to hang up the wetsuits and swap them for mortarboards. Excuse me, where have the last three years gone?

Soon, the class of 2017 will be released into the real world where we will have to accept that not everywhere is as chilled as Falmouth. Gone will be the days of rolling out of bed and walking to Gylly just to look at the view. Instead we’ll be touting our transferable skills and working out our next steps. I may well find that my dungarees are not appreciated outside of Penryn Campus. Scary stuff. If you still have years left on this campus, make the most of everything available to you down here, because soon enough you’ll be like me – suddenly starting to think about packing everything up and leaving, equally excited and terrified.

Although this place has seen me at my most stressed, I am well aware that I have been outrageously lucky. I can’t imagine a better place to accumulate a huge debt and a head full of odd facts about animals. All being well, I will be moving to a city at the end of this year to pursue my career goals and I know I will miss Falmouth massively. I will miss seeing tie-dye-clad students and my rowing club and the sea and that guy in Penryn who takes his cat everywhere. We’re in a unique bubble down here, and not just because everywhere else in the country takes so long to reach by train.

But I haven’t earned my robes or the right to get misty-eyed quite yet. Several thousand words still stand between me and my degree. I imagine this week will see sleep replaced largely with berry tea and Hobnobs as I try to make sure my words make sense before the deadline. Deadline stress seems to be one of the inevitable features of being a student, like collecting free stuff at Fresher’s Fayre and questioning your life choices when the alarm goes off before a 9am lecture on a Friday.

By the time this article is published I’ll have submitted all my work and will presumably be trying to repair my sleep schedule. I will only have three exams left before my degree is over. Then I will be able to get nostalgic about the shy 19-year-old who wedged her belongings into the car and panicked all the way down the motorway to Cornwall, and the people and events that showed her she’d made the right decision.

For now, though, I must wrap this up and get back to figure legends and the ground-breaking implications of my non-significant results.