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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Social and Political Science : Postgrad (School of Social and Political Studies)

Postgraduate Course: Dissertation by Placement MSc Social Research (PGSP11103)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Social and Political Science CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate)
Course typeDissertation AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits60 ECTS Credits30
SummaryStudents will undertake a 15,000 word dissertation linked to a work-based placement on a topic related to Social Research issues, to be submitted by a date specified in the University Regulations, usually mid-August. The dissertation will comprise a 12,000 word analytical report and a 3,000 word project diary. The placements generally consist of eight weeks of on-location research with a host organisation in the UK or overseas, from our network of contacts which includes NGOs, charities, social enterprises, think-tanks and government bodies.

The dissertation will comprise a 12,000 word analytical Report and a 3,000 word diary. The dissertation is an extended piece of scholarship in which a student is expected to formulate and sustain a substantive piece of independent research in Social Research. Previous placement students have produced briefing papers, literature reviews, project progress reports, field monitoring reports, grant proposals, annual reports, policy documents, and field based research outputs. The final 3,000 word diary will be submitted alongside the analytical report, and fortnightly draft submissions will also be required.

The work is expected to engage critically and analytically with the literature in the field, building upon relevant concepts and theories introduced in the taught elements of the degree and deploying a range of primary and secondary sources as well as appropriate data-analytic and bibliographic skills. Each student will be allocated a research supervisor by the end of the second semester to advise on and oversee her/his research progress.
Course description Each Masters programme culminates in a dissertation or equivalent extended, self-directed piece of work. The dissertation is an extended piece of writing of up to 15,000 words, based on independent study of a topic largely of the student's choosing. It tests students' ability to conduct research autonomously, to organise effectively bigger quantities of information and to communicate their research findings in a fluent and structured fashion.

The dissertation is the element of a Masters degree which most clearly differentiates it as an 'advanced' course. It is also the point at which the student progresses from the externally structured study of set courses to independent self-structured study.

In place of the standard dissertation, students have the opportunity to apply for a number of work-based projects on which to base their dissertation. Work-based projects (WBP) are a privilege and not an entitlement and not all students will be able to take up the opportunity. Projects may be within the UK or internationally. It is assumed that students taking up work-based projects will have at least an average mark in semester one of 60% or higher, and no mark less than 60%.

Outline Content

Work-based dissertations will necessarily consist of the following sections:

The Diary (maximum 3,000 words):
The student will send a progress report to the Academic Supervisor and the Placement Coordinator fortnightly during the placement. These reports will later be compiled into a single document for inclusion in the work-based dissertation (note, these reports can be edited upon completion of the placement and prior to the final submission of the work-based dissertation). This is the Diary.

The Diary should be written with the following goals in mind:
- Tracking the development of the placement;
- Commenting in a reflexive and self-critical manner on methodological (e.g. 'positionality,' 'gatekeepers' and access, etc.) and ethical issues arising as the student executes the project placement;
- Reporting on the student's personal development within the work situation, making reference to the skills being developed.

The diary should include a description of the work undertaken, an analysis of how this fits into the overall aims and objectives of the placement, a description and analysis of any obstacles encountered in fulfilling these aims and objectives, and a description and analysis of the attempts made to overcome these obstacles.

Analytical section (maximum 12,000 words):
WBP students undertake a piece of research requested by the host organisation or make some other contribution to an identified project. Accordingly, the form of the student's output to the host organisation will vary depending on the nature of the placement and the host organisation's needs. It is the student's responsibility, in consultation with the organisation and their Academic Supervisor, to clarify at the outset the format appropriate to their particular placement. Some examples include a policy report or briefing paper on a specific issue relevant to the work of the host organisation and which makes recommendations for organisational strategy and future action; a research report based on quantitative or qualitative data collected on behalf of the organisation, which addresses an issue of specific concern to the host organisation, and which feeds back into the organisation's work; a project evaluation report that looks critically at a specific project established by the host organisation - examining its success in achieving goals and objectives - and which sets recommendations for the future. This list is merely illustrative and should not be treated as an exhaustive or restrictive enumeration of the full range of possible outputs.

Whatever the format in which the student presents his or her results to the host organisation, the Analytical section submitted to the University as part of the work-based dissertation must be framed critically, referring to and situating itself within relevant scholarly literature and debates. Students should discuss with their Academic Supervisor the best way of meeting the University of Edinburgh's academic standards in their Analytical section. Many of the key skills and necessary tasks are the same as for a standard dissertation, and students should therefore familiarise themselves with those.

Students working on their dissertation in conjunction with an external organisation need to manage their time and topic very carefully. Your work-based project must not hinder you from fulfilling your academic responsibilities with regard to submitting a dissertation which fulfils all the criteria outlined in these guidelines and those of the Graduate School. As part of your placement you are likely to have other activities to perform and your host organisation may request that you produce work in a different format to your final dissertation. Ensure from the outset that: a) you and the organisation are clear about your responsibilities to the organisation and to the university; and b) that the organisation understands the deadlines and provides you with ample time in the final stages to complete your work.

The normal expectation is that host organisations will request a specific topic/question on which they would like to commission a substantive piece of research (12000 words). Students will also submit to their host a 2 page executive summary of actionable points. This 12000-word analytical section (plus the 3000-word diary) comprise the dissertation submitted to the University of Edinburgh. The 2 page summary is non-assessed and not formally part of the dissertation. It's for the host organisation not the University, so there is no requirement for the student to submit it with the dissertation.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Undertake a sustained piece of supervised but independent work which displays the research skills, training and knowledge acquired in the previous coursework
  2. Demonstrate an ability to engage critically and analytically with the literature in the field of their specialist interest
  3. Employ relevant social science concepts and theories in formulating a thesis
  4. Identify and explore a body of primary sources
  5. Manage the conduct, presentation, and timing of an independent research project, employing appropriate data analysis
Reading List
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Not entered
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserDr Morag Treanor
Tel: (0131 6)50 3918
Course secretaryMrs Beth Richardson-Mills
Tel: (0131 6)51 1659
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