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Motivational Emails and PG Dissertations: By now you should have written 1000 words!


Motivational Emails and PG Dissertations: By now you should have written 1000 words! Kathy Boxall Department of Sociological Studies – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Motivational Emails and PG Dissertations: By now you should have written 1000 words!

Motivational Emails and PG Dissertations By now
you should have written 1000 words!
  • Kathy Boxall
  • Department of Sociological Studies

Motivational Emails and PG Dissertations By
now you should have written 1000 words!
  • Session abstract
  • In 2010-11, motivational emails were introduced
    as part of the MA Social Work (MASW) with a view
    to providing information for students and
    colleagues regarding new requirements for the
    dissertation and motivating students to make
    regular progress in completing work for their
    dissertations. Emails were sent on a regular
    basis to all MASW students registered for the
    dissertation module and to all staff supervising
    MASW dissertations. This presentation will
    describe the content of some of the emails, the
    process of their introduction, advantages and
    disadvantages of the approach and feedback from
    students and staff. It will also raise questions
    about the distance between student and
    supervisor when electronic means of supervision
    are employed and the risks and opportunities of
    such approaches. The presentation will conclude
    by arguing that although whole group motivational
    emails can provide a supportive framework for
    both students and supervisors they are no
    substitute for individual supervision.
  • Why will colleagues be interested in this
    session? How could they adapt the ideas?
  • Dissertation supervisors, library staff and
    programme administrators may wish to adapt these
    ideas to their area of work. IT staff may be
    able to automate the emails or arrange for them
    to be sent as text messages! I also hope there
    will be some discussion and ideas from the

Motivational Emails and PG Dissertations By now
you should have written 1000 words!
  • My motivation
  • Background
  • Method
  • Content
  • Feedback
  • Risks and opportunities
  • Face-to-face supervision
  • Conclusions, questions and ideas
  • References

My motivation
  • I was aware that MASW students confidence was
    sometimes eroded by the task of researching and
    writing a 15,000 word document
  • I was already writing emails to individual
    students to reinforce what we had discussed in
    face-to-face supervision
  • Information by email sometimes seemed to get
    messages across more clearly than face-to-face
  • I have found email reminders helpful.

  • Motivational emails introduced in 2010-11 and
    continued this year
  • MA Social Work numbers increased from 35 to 65
    students over last few years
  • Supervisors now have up to 10 students each
  • Some new supervisors unfamiliar with the
    Sheffield SW dissertation
  • Revised requirements for the dissertation
    confusing for old staff
  • Dissertation Handbook is 34 pages long.
  • Aim was to provide the same information to
    everyone involved, in small doses, at around the
    time they would need this, rather than all at
  • And to encourage and motivate students to submit
    their dissertations on time!

  • The MA Social Work is a two year full time
    programme of study
  • The MASW dissertation takes place over a 12 month
    period from February in the first year to
    February in the second year.
  • Students have six dissertation workshops during
    this period.
  • At the September workshop (beginning of second
    year) I asked if students would like me to send
    motivational emails
  • Both last years and this years students
    responded enthusiastically to this suggestion.
  • Emails sent on a regular basis to all supervisors
    and MASW students from September to February of
    their second year.

My Aim
  • My aim for each email was to
  • Have an easily identifiable format, so emails
    would stand out
  • Include a clear message about requirements and
  • Provide encouragement and motivation for students
    who would be at a range of different stages
  • Ensure that supervisors and students received the
    same information at around the time they would
    need it.


DISSERTATION Motivational Email No.1
  • 4th October 2011
  • Dear MASW2 Student 
  • I hope youve enjoyed the recent good weather and
    you're making good progress with your
    dissertation.  By now you should definitely have
    started writing and have your first draft chapter
    underway. Working on your dissertation two or
    three full days per week, you should aim to write
    approximately 1000 words per week .

DISSERTATION Motivational Email No.3
  • 1st November 2011
  • Dear MASW2 Student I hope youre getting on OK
    with writing your dissertation.  If youre
    anything like me, you will have good writing days
    and bad writing days and absolutely awful
    writing days!  The important thing is to keep
    your spirits up and keep on writing. Carol
    Smart, a professor at Manchester University who's
    written loads of papers and books, has made a
    really helpful video about her experiences of
    writing. If your writing isnt going so well at
    the moment, you may find it helpful to watch
    Carols video 
  • http//

DISSERTATION Motivational Email No.6
  • 2nd December 2011
  • Dear MASW2 Student
  • I hope you are making good progress with your
    dissertation. Now is the time to really focus on
    dissertation writing and try and pull everything
    together for Part A. Having a spurt of writing
    activity before the holiday will mean that you
    enjoy the holiday break and festivities that bit
    more, knowing that you have done your best to
    write as much as you can beforehand.
  • If you dont feel you are making enough progress,
    try not to worry, but do get in touch with your
    supervisor and ask them for advice (Ive copied
    all the supervisors into this message, so they
    wont be surprised to hear from you, even if you
    havent been in touch for a while).

DISSERTATION Motivational Email No.7
  • 21st December 2011
  • .if you are feeling overwhelmed by the
    dissertation task, the best thing you can do is
    take a few days rest and try and relax over
    Christmas. As I said in the dissertation
    workshop, it really wont be the end of the world
    if you are unable to complete your dissertation
    by the deadline (Tuesday 7th February 2012)
    there are other options (an extension, or just
    submitting what you have been able to do, even
    though it may not be complete).
  • If you think you may need to go for one of these
    options, please email your dissertation
    supervisor and ask for an appointment to discuss
    this in the New Year.


Staff feedback
  • Every time I see a motivational e-mail in my
    Inbox, I sigh a little as I know I can expect a
    flurry of activity and Ill receive an influx of
    draft chapters to read and comment on in the next
    day or two!
  • The emails are amusing and written in a lively
    style. The students that are behind dont seem
    to have taken them as this has to happen now,
    theyve taken them as guidelines rather than
    something you need to be frightened about.
  • The only thing I would perhaps question is the
    title and whether some may find it patronising or
  • Although I am sure that not all students will
    find these useful, they are a resource. They are
    also useful in terms of knowing the general
    messages students are getting and how this should
    influence our supervision eg points they should
    be at, what workshops they have had etc. On a
    negative note it is another email to have to
  • The emails help to keep students on track, and
    provide some helpful tips.  I would have liked to
    have received these when I was a student. 

Feedback from students 2010-11
  • Although I found the module very difficult and
    did not get much enjoyment from it the support
    available was great The emails sent out
    regularly made me feel that I was not alone and
    kept me feeling like I was involved with the
  • I think the dissertation handbook could be
    improved to make things clearer, especially re
    the layout of the work, I tended to use the
    information from Kathy's emails where applicable
    as this seemed to be more up to date.

Feedback from students 2011-12(still writing
  • On 21 October 2011 1414, X Bloggs wroteAaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa
    aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! Dissertation! )

Feedback from students 2011-12(still writing
  • I think it depends on the type of person you are,
    but for me the anonymity of the motivational
    emails gives me no incentive to read them,
    whereas if I received a personal email from my
    supervisor I would feel much more motivated
    because it would relate specifically to my work
    and I would feel obliged to respond. 
  • The information overload we receive through junk
    mail, adverts popping up on screen demanding our
    attention and the internet in general means that
    I will only bother to read something which is
    relevant to me specifically, particularly if it
    is more than a sentence long.

Feedback from students 2011-12(still writing
  • Speaking as someone who has been struggling with
    my dissertation, I have to say that since one of
    your first emails stating that we "should" have a
    draft by December and a certain number of words
    by a certain date, I have not opened any of your
    emails apart from this one (partly because it had
    request for help in the title!). Rather than
    motivational, I found the email to be quite scary
    and created panic and stress for me at a time
    that was already quite stressful. I'm sure this
    is not everyone's experience of these emails, but
    I do think thought needs to be given to those
    people who may not be progressing (with their
    dissertation) at the same rate as everyone else
    and I don't think these emails are for

Feedback from students 2011-12(still writing
  • I often didn't read their full contents because I
    felt that I was meeting my own targets for where
    I was up to with my dissertations. This was fine,
    in that an email is a non-intrusive way of
    prodding us - i.e. you can just
    move/ignore/delete it if you're not interested. 
  • Occasionally when I did read it though there was
    actually some information that was helpful, not
    motivationally but practically - I wonder if
    there's a way to ensure that students who are not
    reading the emails (either because they are
    feeling self-motivated or because they can't face
    seeing how behind they are) DO read the important
    information that they sometimes contain. 

Feedback from students 2011-12(still writing
  • I'll admit that one or two I never opened as I
    was scared about what they were going to say and
    as they say ignorance is bliss! You need not have
    written anything in these emails at all...a blank
    email merely titled 'Motivational Email' was
    enough to panic me into writing!
  • However it was a pleasant surprise to read your
    emails and find them A. not as scary as I thought
    they might be and B. actually helpful and
    reminded me that all the worries, anxieties,
    procrastination and ''writers block'' that I was
    experiencing are all common to people undertaking
    this sort of academic challenge, which made me
    feel not so alone. So thank you for that.

Risks and opportunities
  • Scope for misunderstandings writing the emails
    cant be rushed need to think carefully about
    the content and possible misinterpretations
  • I tend to write the emails with my own students
    in mind but students have very different needs
    and rates of progress
  • Writing a dissertation is, for most students, a
    stressful experience but for some the stress
    levels may be intolerable
  • Whole group emails lack a personal touch
  • But they may help students realise that they are
    not alone and others are in the same boat
  • They have generated discussion and interest
    (motivation?) from a range of different quarters
    students, supervisors, secretaries which
    suggests that (at least some) people are reading
    the emails.

Face-to-face supervision
  • Whole group motivational emails can provide a
    supportive framework for both students and
    supervisors but they are no substitute for
    individual supervision
  • In module feedback students rated individual
    support from supervisors very highly
  • But not all students and supervisors have
    positive experiences of supervision
  • In these situations, motivational emails may
    provide an additional safety net.

Conclusions, questions and ideas
  • Although many students appear to find these
    emails useful, for some they are an additional
    and unwelcome source of stress
  • Some students are not opening the emails, so are
    not accessing the content or potential sources of
  • Need think about how to encourage students to
    actually open the emails before they decide they
    are not for them.
  • Any questions?
  • Ideas?

  • Simpson, Ormond (2010) Supporting Learning
    Motivation by email suggestions for helping
    students switch on their learning motivation
    by using email messaging
  • Simpson, Ormond (2012) Supporting students at a
    distance Articles on distance education,