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

Postgraduate Course: Placement-Based Dissertation (MSc Africa and International Development) (PGSP11540)

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 AvailabilityNot available to visiting students
SCQF Credits60 ECTS Credits30
SummaryStudents will undertake a 15,000 word dissertation linked to a placement on a topic related to Africa and international development issues, to be submitted by a date specified in the University Regulations, usually mid-August. The dissertation will comprise a 12,000 word research paper 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 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 research paper, 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 placement-based projects on which to base their dissertation. Placement-based projects (PBP) 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 placement-based projects will have at least an average mark in semester one of 60% or higher, and no mark less than 60%.

Outline Content

Placement-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 placement-based dissertation (note, these reports can be edited upon completion of the placement and prior to the final submission of the placement-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 placement 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):
PBP 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 placement-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 placement-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
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2023/24, Not available to visiting students (SS1) Quota:  None
Course Start Block 5 (Sem 2) and beyond
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 600 ( Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 12, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 588 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) The 15,000 word dissertation includes a research paper of 12,000 words and a research-based Diary of 3,000 words. Draft diaries must be sent on a fortnightly basis to the academic supervisor and the placement coordinator.
Feedback The dissertation will be blind double-marked during September/October of the year of the programme. This means that two internal examiners will read and mark the dissertation independently, then meet to agree the final mark. One marker may be the student's Supervisor, the other will be an independent internal marker. All dissertations are marked anonymously. The dissertation may also be reviewed by an external examiner as part of the examination process, and all marks are confirmed at the Board of Examiners in October. Students should be aware that the University Regulations do not allow a dissertation to be referred or resubmitted. Any student who does not pass the dissertation may be eligible to receive the Diploma, provided their coursework marks are sufficient. The degree is normally awarded at the November graduation.
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Knowledge of academic and policy debates about international development relevant to the dissertation topic
  2. Critical understanding of theories, concepts and the practice of development interventions
  3. Ability to critically evaluate and analyse the empirical evidence employed in the dissertation
  4. Critical understanding of the challenges and realities of work in the field of international development
  5. Demonstrable skills in data analysis, academic writing and referencing
Reading List
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Display the ability to critically employ theories and concepts from social research for the analysis of a range of empirical examples

Develop a critical awareness of current issues in social research along with an understanding of how social research intersects with other disciplinary domains

Be able to communicate your acquired methodological and analytical insights to academic and non-academic audiences alike
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserDr Jose Munoz Martin
Tel: (0131 6)51 5678
Course secretaryMr Adam Petras
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