Durham Mlac Dissertation Sample

About this Module

This module is compulsory for students starting a year abroad in the School of Modern Languages and Cultures. The module aims to offer students an opportunity to gain in-depth knowledge of an aspect or aspects of their studies by researching and writing a research project in the target language in an area in which the School can offer specialized supervision. By providing experience in planning, documenting, and writing an extended piece of work, the TLRP will increase the facility of students to express themselves at a suitable academic level in the target language, and will offer experience in presenting and referencing a piece of writing according to standard academic conventions. The TLRP will provide invaluable practice, particularly at the level of the inculcation and assimilation of primary research skills, for students taking a dissertation module in MLAC and for those hoping to progress to postgraduate study.

The TLRP aims to develop and enhance strategies for independent learning and initiative, foster a genuine commitment to research and the utilization of appropriate research methodologies, provide the ability to organize and manage a longer project, and offer the ability to write fluently and accurately in the target language. By focusing on questions of intercultural awareness at an advanced intellectual level, the TLRP offers a forum for academic engagement and reflection in matters of critical interest relevant to the contexts and environments under discussion. The TLRP seeks to enhance the employability of students by allowing them to demonstrate their ability as independent learners and researchers in the context of a research project that dovetails with the University’s Principles for the Development of the Taught Curriculum. Skills will be developed specifically through an extended enquiry-led activity that will provide students with the competences to succeed in the world of work and the ability to manage their own intellectual and professional development. By focusing specifically on questions of relevant intercultural interest, students will develop as international citizens so that they can make a positive contribution to an increasingly globalized society.

Preparation and Topic Selection

Students will receive generic training for the TLRP through the School’s On-going Induction Programme, which addresses questions of specific relevance and focuses on the inculcation and development of key research skills, notably: academic research, academic writing, evaluating and using sources, and approaches to textual analysis. They will receive language-specific instruction as part of their second-year core language modules and will be expected to have taken AT LEAST TWO culturally relevant modules in the language(s) in which the TLRP is to be conducted. This will give crucial developmental experience in planning and executing intellectual responses to cultural stimuli, be they literary, filmic, artistic, linguistic, or otherwise.

To facilitate allocation, students will be asked towards the end of the epiphany term in their second year to prepare two statements of interest of up to 100 words for each language, offering an intellectual justification for why they want to work on a particular area. The topics should be substantially differentiated from one another and display creative and intellectual ingenuity, but must harmonize with the designated areas of cultural expertise in the list of topics and specialisms. Please note that as a result of the availability of specialist supervision, arrangements vary considerably between departments, and so students should take care in selecting areas that support their research interests.

As there are strict quotas as to the number of students that can be supervised by any given supervisor, students will be advised to articulate their thoughts as clearly as possible. Preferences will be ranked by the Year Abroad Officer for each language and students will be assigned to supervisors on the basis of topic selection and the availability of specialist supervision. In a face-to-face meeting organized in the summer term of Year II, the supervisor will help students explore and shape an approach to the TLRP, and will assist with compiling a preliminary bibliography, so that students can pursue a guided course of reading.

Supervision

In addition to online materials accessible via the Library, materials for each topic area will be made available on DUO, and if students are travelling to destinations where internet access is limited, they will be expected to make sensible use of these in advance. The specific formulation of the TLRP will be discussed in conjunction with the student’s supervisor, and students will follow an agreed programme of reading on their Year Abroad whilst supplementing their work by displaying evidence of independent research and bibliographic initiative. As students are expected to spend AT LEAST seven months in the host culture if studying a single language, or AT LEAST four months in each host culture if studying two languages, it is expected that they will engage with the TLRP as soon as they arrive, and that they will work towards initial consultation with their supervisor within one month of arrival.

Supervisors will give feedback via email at three distinct phases of production: (a) an initial proposal of no more than 200 words outlining an approach to the agreed topic area; (b) a 500-word essay plan outlining the direction to be explored in the project and listing key bibliographic items that have already proven to be useful; and (c) a 500-word sample from the essay. In each instance, comments and feedback will be given to the student on standardized TLRP feedback proformas, copies of which will be logged with the School Year Abroad Administrator. To ensure parity of treatment between students completing the TLRP, supervisors will not be expected to read additional drafts or to give any other form of additional guidance.

Assessment Permutations

Students taking a 40-credit dissertation will be required to complete the TLRP in relation to a single language. For students taking 40-credit dissertations in French, German, Italian, and Spanish, the TLRP will be 5,000 words in length. For students taking 40-credit dissertations in Arabic or Russian, the TLRP will be 4,000 words in length.

Students studying two languages at final year will be required to complete shorter TLRPs for both languages. For students taking French, German, Italian, and Spanish, the TLRP will be 2,500 words in length, while for students of Arabic or Russian, the TLRP will be 2,000 words in length.

Submission and Feedback

Finalized TLRPs must be submitted electronically by 1 September in advance of the Michaelmas Term of the final year of study. Assessment will evaluate students’ ability to assimilate, understand, and analyse critically the primary and secondary material associated with their topics, their powers of intercultural awareness, their ability to present a sustained argument with suitable evidence, and their ability to express themselves fluently and accurately in the target language, paying due attention to the relevant conventions of academic writing. Students will also be expected to produce a full and proper bibliography. Students will receive written feedback on standardized TLRP feedback proformas by the second week of the Michaelmas Term, and key aspects of good practice applicable to the dissertation will be discussed with the relevant supervisor.

The TLRP is not credit-bearing, but it will be graded by percentage on the student’s degree transcript, and will in this way have a direct impact on student employability. Students who pass the TLRP will proceed to the BA in Modern Languages with Year Abroad. Those who fail the exercise will be deemed to have failed the Year Abroad and will be transferred to the BA in Modern Languages Without Year Abroad.

Overall Academic Coordinator:

Dr Penny Johnson (penelope.johnson@durham.ac.uk), Room ER234, Elvet Riverside

Administrative Coordinator:

Ms Kathleen Lowson (kathleen.lowson@durham.ac.uk), Room A35 Elvet Riverside

The intellectual pinnacles of the degree in Modern Languages and Cultures are the Target Language Research Project (TLRP), in which students write an extended essay focusing on an aspect of cultural interest during their Year Abroad, and the Dissertation, which students complete during their final year of study. The two activities work in tandem to provide students with an opportunity for advanced intellectual reflection – the former in the target language and the latter in English – on topics of significant cultural interest. 

Students taking one language at final year will write a single extended TLRP and an extended 40-credit Dissertation on production in that language, while students taking more than one language will complete shorter TLRPs on both languages and will proceed thereafter to a standard 20-credit Dissertation in the language of their choice. 

Preparation for both activities is offered by the School’s Ongoing Induction Programme, which provides core training in research methods and resources, critical theory, and questions of cultural and intellectual understanding. 

For detailed information on each of these key aspects of the programme, please click on the links to your left.

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