Dissertation Advice Series – Part 1 Rebeka Zacková

Dissertation Advice Series – Part 1 Rebeka Zacková

If you are currently in the midst of planning or preparing for your dissertation, I am sure you have already read many “how to” articles online, or maybe even checked out some books on dissertation writing from the library.

There is a lot of great information out there and when writing my dissertation, I have also tried to follow all kinds of suggestions. However, there is one piece of advice that I didn’t come across, that would have possibly prevented me from getting into trouble very close to the deadline. My aim with this article is to recount my experience and explain how not to make the same mistake.

When we started the dissertation module in third year I wasreally excited. I knew that I wanted to write about architecture in virtual realityfor quite some time and had read a number of books on the topic already.

The module started with a couple of lectures regardingwriting the synopsis and it was very well structured and useful. I went throughthe whole suggested process and, alongside with the guidance from my advisor, Iwrote my synopsis and received a high mark for it.

My dissertation was named “The Chair You Can’t Sit On” and it was discussing the current trend of translating real world architecture into the virtual environment. The “Chair” or furniture in general was supposed to illustrate how redundant some objects from real life are in the virtual world. What is the point of a chair you can’t sit on?

The very first time I cameacross Virtual reality was in the book Ready Player One by Ernst Cline, thenlater, fairly close to deciding on the topic for the dissertation I read anarticle in AEC Magazine- “Virtual Reality for architecture: a beginner’s guide. This article , as well as many others I read afterwards,explained the possibilities of implementing this new technology in thearchitecture field. It was mostly presented as a tool for architects to betterunderstand the spaces they are designing, or as a more efficient means ofcommunication between the architect and the client (as opposed totwo-dimensional drawings and renderings).

Even though I agreed that thiscould have a positive impact on the design and communication process, I waswondering, how much further could we take it? This was so much different fromwhat Ernst Cline was envisioning already in the 90s. I decided to explore thistopic in my dissertation.

By posing the symbolic question“What does a chair mean in the virtual environment?” I started to examine therelationship between the real and thevirtual. I was wondering what impact couldthe exploration of this relationship have on our understanding and futureevolution of virtual architecture.

As the weeks went by everything seemed to be going well, Iwas spending loads of time in the library, (as my dissertation was mainlytheoretical) reading and writing. However, as I became really invested in thevirtual reality as a whole I started “playing” Second Life or rather visiting this 3D virtual world.

Second Life as described by itscreator: San Francisco -based firm Linden Lab is The Largest User-Created 3DUniverse where you can Build Your Dream Reality & Live extravagantly andhave Complete Creative freedom. The media sometimes defines it as a multiplayervideo game, sometimes even as a social network. However, the truth liessomewhere in between - combining all the different aspects of these into acompletely unique experience. You’ll find people there who treat it as a gameas well as people living their next life; there are people starting businessesand making money, but also people just trying to push the limits of its designlaws.

One night, my avatar was walking around the Second Life’suniverse. I was hoping to strike a conversation with someone, hopefully onethat would lead me to getting a quote or any other interesting material for mydissertation.

It was very busy in the “house” my avatar was in, there wasa party going on. Other avatars were dancing around in crazy costumes with sometechno music in the background. I tried to strike a conversation with some ofthem but wasn’t having any luck. Then, I noticed someone sitting on a bar chairsipping on a virtual drink. My avatar sat down next to them and we got totalking. After a while I realized why I was able to approach that avatar sitting rather people dancing or walking and at that very moment my dissertation was condemned totake a radical turn.

I excused myself and was looking around the room seeing howdifferent avatars were interacting and started to realize that furniture did have an actual purpose in thevirtual space after all. “Sitting down” was not an act to rest your legs or getcomfortable as it would be in the real world. The action was performed as a non-verbal communication. It indicatedpeople were committed to a longer or deeper conversation or it could signalthat you were open to have a conversation.

Now, this discovery led me down a path of a whole other dimension of social interactions in a virtual environment and I felt that I could no longer argue against the use of furniture as such in avatar inhabited worlds. I felt like when planning my dissertation, I completely omitted this whole layer or angle. My whole dissertation at this point was supposed to prompt people to stop designing or get rid of their virtual furniture altogether. Re-reading all the text I have written thus far I could see the narrative setting the scene for that moment. I was in trouble.

All this happened during a break so I couldn’t ask myadvisor for advice. It seemed dishonest to omit the information I learned justto “stay on track with my plan”. I decided to integrate the new knowledge intomy dissertation as well as I could. Unfortunately,these new findings were from a completely different field of study - mydissertation started with semiotics and then in the middle a new layer ofsocial interactions got added it became unclear what I was trying to say.

The whole work ended up being messy and seemed obvious I didn’t spend as much time on it as the rest of my research which at the end influenced my final mark. Thinking about it now I believe this could’ve been prevented if I planned my synopsis smarter and that is the reason I am writing this article.

So, what could I have done differently to not get into thistrouble?

I believe the biggest mistake I made was to perceive theconclusion I wished to get to as anactual conclusion.  Looking back now, Ican see that I didn’t allow for the research to unfold naturally, rather I wassearching the books for arguments to support the point I wanted to make. Itwould have definitely helped me to call the “conclusion” in the early process a“hypothesis” and maybe it would have been useful to come up with at least afew. This would have reminded me that I am researching a dissertation questionnot simply putting together a compelling set of arguments supporting my claim.

To take from my experience when preparing for your dissertation:

1 Read all the books and consider all the sources you possibly can beforeplanning the synopsis. Even though I did read 80-90% of the material, Ididn’t consider Second Life as such a valuable resource. I underestimated itsvalue.

2 Write the conclusion as a theory rather than as a set destination.

Make sure to stop and considerall the possibilities. You could even try to ask your tutor or classmateswhether they can see different outcomes.

3 Don’t try to achieve too much.

At the end of the day it’s only10,000 words. When I found out this new layer of information I should’ve beenmore critical. It would’ve been good to just have a sit down with myself andtake a hard-uninvested look into the matter. See that there is not enough spaceto explore both of these topics in depth and just leave the other one for nextproject.

4 Try to see the whole project.

Try to read the text in different progress stages with fresh eyes. As if it was not your work, as if you had no background in the topic you were writing about. This should help you see it there is a good flow throughout your dissertation and also that all the sections are development in a more or less same depth. If you do this correctly, the thought process supporting your research question will be clearly understood through the whole text and your dissertation more successful.

Maybe it seems pretty obvious to you where the mistake occurred. I can see it now too, but 2 years ago when I was so deeply invested in researching this topic, trying to stick to the plan and deadlines I failed to see the bigger picture. I am hoping my experience can be of use to you and good luck with your dissertation!

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