Surprisingly I'm nearly two thirds of the way through my degree at Bournemouth University. I don't think I'll ever understand how time seems to melt away while my back is turned. Still, it means the final year is fast approaching, which means it's dissertation time. That's right, the stressful moment in a student's life where they need to wrack their brain for something they've learnt in the last few years that'll make an interesting thesis. Well, it's a little more exciting than that but it certainly feels that way sometimes!
The first step in the life of a dissertation is the proposal, the proof of concept that outlines your thesis and the theories and topics that will be discussed within. At this point it's all a bit up in the air and open to change, although that doesn't make it any less difficult to decide upon. I believe I'm nearly there in regards to my own dissertation proposal and in an act of madness or, I hope, genius, I would like to share my thoughts with you with the aim of bringing to light any glaring issues.
It's not what you know, it's who you know
During my time at university I've become increasingly interested in network theory. From crowdsourcing to simple communication, I'm fascinated by the psychology behind their structure, and amazed at the power they wield. There are many other topics I'm interested in, like the issues surrounding ubiquitous computing, but it's networks that I always come back to time and time again so it would be a mistake not to include them in some way.
It would be wrong to try and tackle the entire concept of networks in a single dissertation so I plan to refine my definition of networks, at least in relation to my research. The dramatic rise of Twitter as a tool for social communication, as well as it's open data and API, makes it a prime specimen for analysis. I may expand my outlook after the initial research, but I believe Twitter is an extremely potent example of how networks work and illustrates beautifully the ways in which they can be used.
It's an emotional business
At the core of my dissertation proposal are the concepts of emotion and sentimentality, in particular their effect on behaviour. When coupled with networks this becomes a rich area of research. For example;
- Are sentiments and emotions reciprocated across networks?
- Are the actions of one's self defined by the perceptions of others in the network?
- Can emotion and sentiment be predicted based on that of the network as a whole?
- In what way is individual behaviour affected by the emotion and sentiment of a network?
- Does the emotion and behaviour on social networks reflect that of the offline world?
Those questions alone fascinate me, and I'm sure there are plenty of other insights that will arise from this area once I get started. Needless to say, my hobbyist interest in psychology and behaviour will drive my passion in this area of research.
Measuring Christmas spirit
The main aim of the dissertation is to expand from my work with the Redweb spirit of christmas project, a project which analysed in a basic way the emotion of individual tweets in relation to a particular subject. My plan is to dig a little deeper and find out if the widespread analysis of such information on social networks can be used to predict behaviours. One such example could be in the ability to use this information to gauge public opinion on particular issues. Is the opinion expressed on a social network comparable to that of the offline world?
Bringing in the big guns
A dissertation is useless without academic foundations and solid support from existing theories and research. Fortunately there is a wide variety of work out there today that relate to individual areas of what I hope to research. Here are just a few;
- Erving Goffman and his presentation of self
- Leon Festinger's social comparison theory
- Social network analysis
I hope that during my reading during the summer I will uncover many more theorists and concepts that relate to my thesis.
My question to you is this
I'm settled on the core focus of my dissertation proposal but I would very much like to hear about concerns or ideas that may enhance my research. Please get in touch with me via the comments or my Twitter account and I will answer each and every one of you. I'd also appreciate any pieces of advice from anyone who's already completed a dissertation.