Thoughts on a Master’s Dissertation

A few months ago, I undertook a study of contemporary social media through a sociological study of the iPhone instagram app. The research project was multidimensional:

  • I used the app for four-weeks, interacting with other users and sharing images
  • I traveled to London for the first Instagram meetup in the UK, talking with users IRL (in real life)
  • I collected 23 open response questionnaires from users in the UK and around the world

Then I wrote an 80-page dissertation and turned it in.

So much good research stops right there. Project complete, research finished, product typed and handed to the right people, a scholar may move on to new ideas and inquires.

But I didn’t want this project to stop there. I wanted it to have life- to circulate among other academics and especially among the people who are making and defining social media – USERS. So I distilled the results into a five page executive summary and began emailing blogs pitching my research as a story. I had discovered six common motivations for Instagram use across all of the responses. I had undertaken an academic study of a technology not even a year old at one of the world’s oldest universities. I must have emailed 30 or so different targets before the responses started coming in. The go-to unofficial blog of Instagram users, Instagramers.com, published a round-up of the report. A post at AppFreak followed, focusing on why social interactions are among the most ‘addicting’ apps. Then the story exploded on The Next Web site, as over 200 people tweeted a post about my research, and the summary received over 2,000 reads in just a day. People began messaging and emailing me about the piece following up on aspects of the research, questions relevant to their own research, or invitations to participate in fabulous online discussions like one at Theory Thursday.

Within three weeks of publishing the dissertation, over 5,000 people had read it.

I measured this as an immense success against the general experience of Master’s dissertations languishing in departmental libraries ad infinitum. The point is, though the subject of my dissertation really lent itself to internet promotion, students and researchers must find the time to really push and promote their work. This is no vanity and though challenging (emailing endlessly) it will probably be the most rewarding part of a research project as the study will gain life and its own agency. There’s no telling where your work will go when you let out into the world, but isn’t that better than knowing the few places it resides?

Post-Script: About two weeks ago, I received my marks, which were far, far higher than I had expected. Earning a distinction on the dissertation was an immense, unexpected honor. Even more stunning was being told that this had ensured my degree was awarded “with distinction.” I am still happier to receive the odd email from a stranger asking a follow-up question from reading the summary online.

This entry was posted in Culture, culture studies, education, Europe, Internet, media, research, technology, university of cambridge and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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