Full-time MBA participant, Kristen Rossi, shares her top tips for tackling the MBA consultancy project and dissertation.
From the second the MBA started there was talk of “The Project & Dissertation”, the part of the MBA that is worth the most credit, will probably involve an outside company and (gasp), that you will do alone!
The consultancy project and dissertation is essentially a two / three month long independent research project that will result in a 15,000-word dissertation. It is usually supported by a local client who have a topic or question that they would like to know more about and WBS provide specific, mandatory careers sessions dedicated to the consultancy project and dissertation in both terms two and three and on the my.wbs portal (your new Facebook).
How will the project and dissertation benefit you? I can only speak for myself, but with the project and dissertation, I gained three things. Firstly, slightly superficial, I now have a fabulous new brand on my CV, Aston Martin Lagonda. Secondly, through the interviews I conducted for my primary research I had the privilege to learn a lot about the luxury automotive sector, which I would otherwise have not had the opportunity to learn as much about. Writing to and setting up a conversation with the CMO of a major firm is made easier when you have WBS and the justification of a dissertation, and the information they share is priceless. Thirdly, although tedious, I had the opportunity to deep-dive into a particular topic - marketing ROI best practices. This really helped me to understand the challenges and remedies of this topic in depth and will certainly help me as I make my career jump in the coming months.
This leads to my six pieces of advice for your consultancy project and dissertation:
1. Make the project work for you.
When choosing your client project and dissertation, try to focus on an industry and topic that you hope to transition into. If you are looking to move into finance, work on a project that will provide you with the knowledge to help you land the job!
2. Align your research project to your dissertation
If you are doing a project and dissertation with a client, then aim to align the project or research the company wants you to work on to your dissertation question. If they are vastly different, you will be doing double the work.
3. Start your research literature review reading early.
Once you roughly know the topic of your project and dissertation, start researching. Do not wait until you have a supervisor or until your elective modules are finished. Start immediately! I recommend this for three reasons. Firstly, the initial articles you find will most likely not be the gems you hope them to be and it will take a lot of speed-reading and trial and error before you uncover the wisdom that will actually inform your research. Secondly, once you find relevant research, it will take time to read it and most academic literature is not a page-turning detective novel (I can attest to falling asleep mid-read on several occasions). Finally, I am a believer that to truly understand and process new material, you need time. Give yourself the time to read, step away and think, and come back to it. In the end, you will be grateful that you did.
Further to this point, when reading journal publications look at the references the author cites. Seek out these additional authors and their publications.
4. Do not wait to be assigned a supervisor.
You may have regressed to a teenager during the year, but remember that you are actually a grownup, be proactive. Once your project applications have been whittled down to interviews (early May for the Full-time MBA), look at the topics and seek out an academic(s) in the school whose knowledge (and personality) you think would match the project(s) and you. The sooner you do this the better. I had finalised my supervisor by the beginning of June and this head start was extremely beneficial. It allowed me to better project manage the different chapters of the dissertation and be more in control of the process.
5. Create a timeline for your dissertation
Speaking of project management, with the help of your supervisor, work backwards and setup a timeline to tackle each section of the dissertation. Include milestones where you will check-in with your supervisor (face-to-face is recommended) as well. For anyone interested, I would be happy to share my timeline, just get in touch.
6. For the actual client facing part of the project and dissertation, my advice would be to communicate, communicate, and communicate.
If you are not going to their office, then from the beginning of your relationship set in place weekly 30-minute Skype sessions to keep the client up-to-date with what you are doing. This will allow you to build a relationship with them and will help you to address any hiccups along the way. Sometimes after starting your research, you may find that the client’s initial request is too broad. This is okay, but you will need to bring it up and negotiate a more realistic deliverable. The weekly updates are also beneficial as, as you research, you may find yourself going off in the wrong direction. Checking in with your client on a weekly basis will help you stay on track.
The project and dissertation is the elephant in the room that you know is charging for you and you would like to ignore, but you simply must face. As of today, I am pleased to say that my dissertation is complete and upon reflection, I would like to think that I have charmed the elephant. I hope that by sharing my experience and a few pieces of humble advice that by the end of the year you and your elephant will be friends.
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