Choice matters: an investigation of students’ experiences selecting dissertation projects




self-efficacy, engagement, motivation, final-year project


The final year dissertation is an important part of an undergraduate degree which delivers a wide range of subject-specific and transferable skills. It plays a significant part in students’ learning development and overall experience of university. Finding the right project is emotionally important to students and may underpin their subsequent motivation and engagement. Little is known, however, about how students make this important choice. This study aimed to learn more about students’ experiences of choosing a dissertation, how their choice processes varied and whether their choices worked out well for them. It surveyed 150 undergraduates in natural sciences at a UK university, asking a mix of qualitative and quantitative questions. Findings indicate that students value a range of factors when choosing their dissertation, most prominently interest in the subject and approach but also their existing familiarity with the area, the perceived benefits and demands of the work and staff support. Multivariate analysis suggests a variety of choice processes are in operation, with some students valuing content factors and others trading these off against relational ones. With hindsight, 91 respondents (60.7%) felt their choice process had worked well and 87 (58%) would choose the same way again. A subset, however, had felt unprepared to choose, and some of these were particularly unhappy with the outcome. The implication for learning development is that helping students learn to make conscious and informed choices and making dissertation modules student-centric is likely to significantly improve engagement and learning, especially for the less confident.

Author Biography

Isabelle Winder, Bangor University

Isabelle C. Winder (@isabelle_winder) is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Natural Sciences, Bangor University, a Bangor University Teaching Fellow and a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. Her PhD is in human evolution which led to a broad interest in how humans learn and why we behave (and think) the way we do. She has been actively working on equality, diversity and inclusion, student co-creation and the pedagogies of supervision and skills development for more than ten years.


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How to Cite

Winder, I. (2023) “Choice matters: an investigation of students’ experiences selecting dissertation projects”, Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education, (27). doi: 10.47408/jldhe.vi27.923.




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