Thesis and dissertation work: is online research enough?

By Sarah Livingston

The culmination of a Master’s degree is normally a heavily research based thesis or dissertation, but with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, some students are having to alter their plans.

Universities across Scotland have been closed, following new restrictions imposed by the UK Government on Monday evening. As a result, many students are left with no physical access to the libraries and facilities needed to complete their research.

Caitlyn Vann, Forensic Anthropology Master’s student at University of Dundee, was supposed to be finalizing her research topic for her thesis just before her university announced it would be closing. “I had just been approved on the 13th to do a validation study of various methods of AD estimation using juvenile bones from the Scheuer skeletal collection.” She now will not be able to complete a thesis. In order to graduate, her university allowed her to submit a literature review instead.

“on the 17th we were told that if we hadn’t finished our data collection in the next day or two then we wouldn’t have the opportunity to access the collection. So now it’s been switched to a literature review.” -Caitlyn Vann

Some research students, however, don’t yet know the status of their projects, or if they will even be able to graduate on time.

Sara Bakalchuk is studying Human Anatomy and Medical Visualisation, a joint Master’s programme through Glasgow School of Art and the University of Glasgow. Her final project was a research based presentation that she was about to begin working on. Her research involves experience in a hospital, something that can’t happen at the moment. “We actually don’t even know when we’ll be able to do the dissertation.” she says.

“I don’t think it’s enough to do a dissertation because we actually need to interact with subjects and we need to partner with different hospital workers, which is not really possible right now.” -Sara Bakalchuk

Sara also worries about her job prospects once graduates, as she might not have been able to do the same work that people who graduated before her did during their degrees.

Despite all of this, university libraries are trying to make online services more accessible for their students and finding new ways to offer support.

The University of the West of Scotland Library has put together a Padlet page offering additional online support for their students. Students can also access library support via email at and the Self Serve portal. While students can no longer take books out of the library, online research is still possible through the library’s digital archive One Search.

UWS Library Padlet

It’s becoming easier than ever to conduct online research, as long as all you need is access to academic articles and literature. These students can use various online research tools to complete their projects, unlike other students who need access to specific materials and university facilities to complete their final projects.

In addition to university library services, here are some websites that offer open access to academic articles and scholarly literature:

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