What connects Big Data, sustainability, natural disasters, employee engagement and pet friendly restaurants? The answer is that they have all been topics chosen by our Bachelor students for their final semester dissertations. With the help of Assistant Professor and Dissertation Coordinator, Dr. Rachel Germanier, we discover the secrets of a successful dissertation…
Honors graduate. The name has a nice ring, doesn’t it? And on Graduation Day you get a special golden cord to adorn the traditional mortar, gown and cape.
First, though, you have to earn the Honors title, through 10,000 words of carefully researched, well-argued thoughts and insights. This is your dissertation: the pinnacle of your academic accomplishments as a Bachelor student at Les Roches.
Only a minority of each BBA student cohort undertakes a dissertation. Why so? First, the student has to have the desire; second, they have to qualify through a spotless academic record (no fails) and a suitable grade point average for BBA semester 6. And finally, they have to pick a topic and an angle of attack that will actually work as a dissertation.
As Dissertation Coordinator Dr. Rachel Germanier explains, the process actually starts in semester 6, with the ‘Business and Academic Research Methods’ class she teaches.
“One of the core things I teach in this class is critical thinking,” she says. “This is fundamental for doing a dissertation, because it teaches you to look at things subjectively; to be alert for bias, and how to spot seemingly independent research that is actually funded by a corporate entity to push its agenda. Learning to deploy critical thinking is an essential part of the transformative education we often talk about at Les Roches.”
As part of Dr. Germanier’s class, students can choose to prepare a topic and a proposal for a dissertation. It’s an optional and ungraded piece of work; but without it they cannot go forward for their dissertation.
The dissertation topic is entirely the students’ own choosing. Dr. Germanier guides them where necessary, including helping them pick a topic and an approach that could work as a dissertation project.
“There are three basic rules. The topic has to relate to hospitality and tourism; it has to be ethically safe, and it has to be doable for a student. That said, if their idea gets rejected they have the chance to come back with a revised proposal.”
To underline the sheer breadth of dissertation topics our students pick, we’ve selected just a few examples from recent Honors graduates:
Once into their seventh and final semester, dissertation students need to balance this major piece of work with their regular classwork. They get to skip one of the General Education modules, but otherwise it’s a case of sharpening their soft skills in time management!
What they don’t have to worry about is getting the right support from our faculty. Every dissertation student is appointed his or her own dedicated dissertation supervisor, who they meet with on a weekly basis to ensure everything stays on track.
“As supervisors we help and encourage, but ultimately this is the student’s work and they have to be the ones leading it and managing their own time,” says Dr. Germanier. “Where we can help the most is by reviewing each chapter of the dissertation as work in progress, then giving our feedback. We can support them by helping them to sharpen their focus, perhaps by narrowing down their points of reference.
“It is essentially a working partnership: the students bring their curiosity about their chosen topic; and the supervisor guides them on how to turn this curiosity into a substantial, structured report.”
The three keys of a winning dissertation?
A good dissertation needs to tick all the following boxes:
- Must be cohesive
- Has to tell a story
- Needs to ask a question and tell why that question is relevant, as well as what the existing literature says – and doesn’t say – about it.
“Then the author seeks to answer that question, and in the process advancing our knowledge on their chosen topic,” notes Dr. Germanier.
For many students, the dissertation feeds a passion or interest. It can also forge a connection with the place they live or their family business.
“For next semester, I have a student who has proposed a dissertation about the effects of climate change in the French ski resort of Val Thorens,” says Dr. Germanier. “Another is aiming to investigate the impacts of the COVID pandemic on wellness tourism in Romania. That’s a topic she can truly identify with as her parents own a wellness hotel in that country. Both proposals are now under review.”
How ‘niche’ can the dissertation topics get? Dr. Germanier adds that provided they meet the basic criteria, they can go pretty granular. “I’m currently supervising a student who is researching dog friendliness in restaurants, and how this impacts consumer behavior. It sounds quite niche on the surface, but pet owners are a very significant consumer group, and this subject fits under the hospitality umbrella. So it passes the test.”
The honor and the glory… and the career boost
All completed dissertations are marked by the student’s appointed supervisor and by a ‘blind’ marker who is also a supervisor, with everything overseen by the school’s external examiners. As mentioned, those who pass become Honors graduates and get a little bit of extra glory on Graduation Day. Longer term, there are significant other benefits, too.
“Being an Honors graduate makes it easier to be accepted to Master’s programs in the wider education network. It also helps you to stand out from the crowd in the job market, particularly if your topic fits with your potential employer’s business sector or philosophies.
“In fact, many top employers will stipulate an Honors degree as their minimum academic requirement.”
To underline her point, Dr. Germanier recalls the story of one student who decided to pass on the option of a dissertation, only to perform an abrupt U-turn when a prospective employer asked him to tell them more about his chosen dissertation topic!
She concludes, “A dissertation is about all these things. But equally it is about the pride and satisfaction of the achievement itself. To be an Honors student is a special thing, and it’s something you will carry with you for the rest of your life. Our Honors students are justifiably proud of the work they produce.”