As part of my teaching responsibilities this semester, I had a dissertation student. The dissertation topics I had proposed were clearly not very popular, as I could have had up to eight takers but had only one. That's alright; fewer students is less work! The student and I had a meeting in autumn in which I gave her some ideas of where and how to start. And then we saw each other again in January; she said that due to other commitments and imperfect health she hadn't come round to actually working on the dissertation, but all was better now, and she could get cracking. Good!
That was the last time I saw her before the dissertation deadline. She requested a few more meetings, but never showed up. I was starting to get worried. Would she submit anything? And if so: what?
Then the email came from the teaching office; we could pick up our dissertations to mark. I thought I'd happily pick up the one, but had forgot about second marking; I ended up with four. (Even one more would later appear in my pigeon hole). But one had my immediate attention: the one of my own student.
I opened it. It looked like a dissertation! I was relieved. And then I saw the acknowledgments; she thanked me for my expert advice. My what? I hadn't done anything!
The next days the students would give oral presentations about their dissertation. I was apprehensive; how would she do? And she was the last one of the morning session. She would talk about sea ice.
All staff present are expected to mark all the presentations, but you are expected to provide more detailed feedback on your own students. So when she took the floor I not only paid attention because I was keen to see what she had done, but also because I would be her main source of feedback. It wasn't perfect, but she had a coherent story! And you could tell she was nervous, but she pulled it off! And then she was done. Coffee break!
I walked towards her to give her my feedback. And upon seeing me up close she broke down. She had worked herself into a spiral of not delivering, then not wanting to face me, then struggling to deliver because she was entirely without guidance, and so on. And now all had come to an end, and all the stress came out. We sat down in a quiet corner. She apologised, but she had nothing to apologise for. She had done it all by herself! I told her I hoped she would draw strength from knowing she had produced a dissertation and a presentation entirely on her own, under difficult circumstances. I hope next time she'll avoid the downward spiral! And altogether it wasn't a very satisfying spell of dissertation supervision, but it had a happy end!