How to Survive Arts Honours

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Sam is a first year Master of Publishing and Communications student who previously completed a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in History. In his spare time, he likes to watch soccer and cycling, read books, bake cakes and knit jumpers.

Have you ever considered doing honours, and then looked at your haggard friends who are halfway through their own theses and thought ‘mmm, better not’? This seems to be a pretty common first impression of honours – and not without reason. Honours is a demanding, unrelenting year that can seem much longer than just two semesters. But, if you play your cards right, this tough year at uni could be the one you remember the most fondly down the track.

With that in mind, here are some survival tips to help ensure your sanity is still intact come graduation time.

Choose the right supervisor

Everybody knows you should look for a thesis supervisor whose research interests match your chosen topic. But equally important as substance, and often overlooked, is whether you and your supervisor have compatible personalities and expectations. One of the most common grumbles you hear from fellow honours students is that their supervisor just doesn’t understand them, or vice versa.

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If you’re gifted with strong independent study skills, then look for someone who will simply give you the space to do your own thing. But if you are more like me, and require a firm hand to get you started, a more hands-on supervisor might be the ticket. The key is to try and suss out if your potential supervisor is right for you in the first couple of meetings.

Read everything

Next, go and read as much published work involving your topic as possible. There is no such thing as too much research in honours, and almost no such thing as approaching your idea with too broad a scope. In fact, the opposite is true. At this stage in the game, it is quite likely that you will reconsider your topic and tweak your focus at least a little, perhaps even a lot.

If you’re willing, start in the summer holidays – or is that just a ridiculous suggestion?

Start writing early

Once you begin researching, it can be difficult to stop. All the same, there’s a lot to be said for writing as early as possible. No matter how rambling and disjointed those first words you produce seem, it will give you something concrete to work with from the get-go. When the first half-length draft of your thesis is due in the middle of the year, you won’t be the one having trouble making that literature review materialise.

Make friends

It may seem simple, but making pals with the other students in your honours cohort can make all the difference to your general well-being and overall motivation. There’s nothing better than all going for a drink together after class on Wednesdays and debriefing about your tutors, supervisors and thesis. While your regular friends may have zero interest in listening to your endless moaning about honours, these guys will be the ones willing to lend an ear. They get it.

Work consistently

Easy to say, but almost impossible to do. The amount of time and effort you dedicate to your thesis will vary from week to week, it’s inevitable. Still, you want to avoid the point when you realise you haven’t looked at your thesis in a month. Do you have the dedication to work for a whole year on a single project?

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It’s partly the responsibility of your supervisor to ensure you stay on-track. They might set you fortnightly targets so you keep working through your thesis. But ultimately, it’s up to you.

Interviews with real people – a word of warning

Waiting for ethics clearance, arranging times to meet and transcribing audio files are all factors in the interviewing process that add up fast. While interviewing interesting people or experts often works well for your thesis in theory, be warned, this is going to add weeks of extra effort to your task!

The end goal

For me, honours was an intense but super rewarding year. I made new friends, learnt new skills, and ended up with an impressive-looking bound manuscript in my hands – my completed thesis! If this sounds like it might be your jam or cup of tea, do honours.

– Sam

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