Wayde Edwards


Masters in Major Programme Management




Life Sciences


2017 - 19

By Wayde Edwards

Polishing pearls: six tips for your first assignment

It was the final pop-up message. I decided to read it although I already knew what it was going to say [to the tune of the 1996 smash hit,

“Have you seen my reference?” **

“Wannabe” by the Spice Girls] “Now… tell me if you’re sure, if you’re really really sure?”. It was now beyond doubt; my brain was totally frazzled. The “atomic” countdown clock had read 39 minutes and 27 seconds when I started the submission process… was there time for another read? Had I accidently uploaded my shopping list? I snapped out of it. The assignment was fine. I clicked yes and it was done. It was now in the hands of the markers. Which is good, as I can’t look at it again. It’s dead to me. I really hope it finds joy with the markers though.

A few moments later I was walking in circles around the living room before wisely deciding to head outside. While strolling around Brixton in South London I thought of these six tips for surviving your first marked assignment.

“If you build it, they will come”*

3000 words seems like a lot. Then you start bashing out some thoughts. It feels good, this assignment is happening! Then you get to the end, look at the word count and realise you now need to work through a 4000-word pile of rubbish for a few pearls. Start slowly, build in the quality and the word count will come. “I still need more words for my assignment!” said no one ever to the cohort WhatsApp group. Just looking at your assignment and breathing can increase the word count by 5%. Fact.

Sleep on it

Get some rest, overnight if possible, and look at it afresh before you submit. Worst case it was fine before and you lost a bit of sleep fretting over it. Best case, you spot a few typos that can help to add the final polish. Just resist the urge for any final re-engineering and recognise this time for what it is. Failing that, see sentence one.

Let me draw you a picture

I used “Magic Whiteboards” that come in a roll and stick to walls, windows and doors using static. I drew all sorts of diagrams about how I would attack my assignment. Whether this planning and problem solving translated into the quality of my writing remains to be seen. It did keep me sane though and burnished my scholarly credentials when they were plastered all over the study.

WhatsApp group on mute

An international class with hands-on global experience is a wonderful thing. However, it isn’t that wonderful when you wake-up with a jolt to 37 WhatsApp messages and think you’ve slept through the end of the world. Then you discover that Liam in Lesotho is wondering how to reference the note his college professor scribbled on a napkin in the bar late one night… The cohort is amazingly supportive and there is always someone willing to help. It’s OK to mute the group and step back from time to time.

Get your friends and family on-side early      

Supportive friends and family who understand that sometimes you just have to get your head down and can’t make those drinks, go for that run, cook that dinner or even take out the garbage. OK, I probably could have done the garbage. But when you’re in the zone, you’re in the zone. That’s why we MMPM students are sometimes found sitting in the dark typing away.

Get outdoors  

It makes a massive difference and you can still mentally work on your assignment if you feel you need to. Leaving your desk does not mean that the theories and concepts are left behind… I’m afraid they are now ingrained in your brain. You’ll come back to your desk refreshed, re-energised and sometimes with a clarity of thought you’d never have found otherwise.

Start early, take these tips on-board and all should be well. At least I think so… still waiting for those marks! The reality is that on the first marked assignment you are also building your skills in academic research and writing. The process will not be smooth. Some days your assignment might even regress!

During the Gateway Module of the course we learnt that on Major Programmes you have to “find the Lego”***. i.e. what are the re-usable components that help with time pressure and scale well? In your first assignment, you need to start developing skills you can take forward and re-use. This will probably be the key to surviving future assignments. In short, don’t find the Lego. Be the Lego.

* Field of Dreams, 1989 –

** Image kindly provided Pixabay and used under the creative commons licence.

***Lego concept for Megaprojects from Bent Flyvbjerg

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