[DISCLAIMER: This blog post is about the journey of writing my dissertation (including my personal motivations, challenges, and methodology). To read a condensed version of my research’s findings, please head over to Part 2. If you’d like a copy of the complete dissertation, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org]
On the 29th of May, 2020, I finally submitted my 10,000-word dissertation titled “#DontSpoilTheEndgame: An Investigation Into Social Media Engagements With the Viral Phenomenon of Avengers: Endgame”. I consumed way too much coffee for the defining assignment of my university life. It was worth it though – because I am extremely proud of my findings. And well, it ended up being a First Class dissertation, receiving 78 marks out of 100 – which is considered a brilliant score in the UK system. Alhamdulillah! I’ve only written one other essay that managed to get a mark higher than that.
So, what is a dissertation, exactly? There are many other word variations for a research dissertation – thesis, final year project, and so on. But generally, many university students all over the world have to produce a piece of original research during their final year. For my Diploma in Communication and Media at UiTM, my groupmates and I did research on The Portrayal of Skin Colour in Malaysian Advertisements. Even conducting research as a group gave me severe head pain – but nothing compared to my degree dissertation! In fact, that Diploma assignment looks so amateur now compared to my most recent work.
So for those of you who don’t know, I am a huge fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and have been since the first Avengers movie came out in 2012. Obviously, I was super pumped for Endgame (my followers would know…) and had the best cinematic experience of my life watching it with an amazing crowd. Being a media student, I was extremely fascinated observing the amount of social media hype regarding Endgame. I think my curiosity about this started as early as Infinity War (April 2018) – because before Infinity War, I’d known invested Marvel fans to be a tight-knit group of people. Like, among my circle of friends… I know who the Marvel nerds are, and I rarely talk about Marvel to those who aren’t interested. But when Infinity War came out, there were spoiler leaks all over the internet (yes, I’m still traumatized by that… that’s why I ended up writing a whole dissertation about it…). Which made me scratch my head and wonder, SINCE WHEN DID EVERYONE AND THEIR GRANDMOTHER BECOME A MARVEL FAN????? I was getting forwarded spoilers in class and housemate Whatsapp groups – something I have NEVER witnessed for any other movie ever. I barely even remember anyone talking about Avengers: Age of Ultron when it came out in 2015 other than my fellow Tumblr mutuals! So naturally, I decided to pursue this area of interest for my dissertation. I mean, if I was gonna be investing a lot of time and effort into writing something, it might as well be something I’m passionate about.
I had to write my research proposal while Avengers: Endgame was still screening. A whole year before my dissertation submission. Yet, a nagging thought entered my head: what if people don’t remember engaging with Endgame on social media anymore months later when it’s time for me to conduct my research????? So I did something probably nobody else did: I collected data immediately. I got an ethics form approved and distributed my online questionnaire to people. Before I had even done literature review readings or been assigned a dissertation supervisor. Insane, I know. But I had to do it, to ensure respondents’ maximum retention of their experiences engaging with Endgame on social media. I asked them stuff like “On which social media platform do you encounter the most Endgame content?” and “Which posts from the cast/crew stood out the most for you?” and “How did social media raise your awareness of Endgame compared to traditional media?”.
The link spread like wildfire, like fitnah, like coronavirus. 692 respondents. SIX HUNDRED AND NINETY-TWO. Because they found it an interesting topic and Endgame was trending at the time, I suppose. Some of you reading this blog post may have answered it. I spread the link to my friends and strangers on the internet (a lot of Marvel fan accounts) – and they went out of their way to promote it and answer it. For that, I cannot thank you enough and words cannot express my level of gratitude. You guys gave me sooooo many insights and I truly enjoyed going through your responses, often going “Lol yeah Tom Holland’s recent spoiler leaks were obviously just marketing stunts” and “Yesss omg the fans definitely did all the advertising for the film!”.
I submitted my research proposal, which I would have gotten a First for if I didn’t lose 5 marks for slightly exceeding the word limit (Silly Arifah… save the rants for Facebook!).
And then I didn’t touch the responses for months and months and months.
Summer came and left. I did an internship at an advertising agency. Came back to the UK in September, got a dissertation supervisor, and was ready to BRING IT ON for my final year.
Of course, much easier said than done.
In November I had to submit my literature review. It was extremely painful because you have to do a LOT of readings and critically engage with them, and I didn’t really know where to start. I thought it would just be like any other 2,500 to 3000-word essay, but nope. Once I even sat in the library all day, aiming to write at least a few hundred words, but came up with absolutely nothing. And during that week I was determined to never, ever, ever become an academic. HAHA. But… you know. People change.
I wanted to use the 692 responses and perhaps also conduct focus groups. But by some miracle, my supervisor who was also teaching me a Social Media module in Semester 2 managed to gain access to a dataset of 1,048,576 tweets with the #Endgame hashtag from the Twitter API. Of course, I didn’t analyze a million posts – just a random sample of 1,000 tweets. But the tweet dataset definitely helped strengthen my findings from the questionnaire and give them a more concrete foundation! Alhamdulillah.
To analyze the findings from the questionnaire responses and the tweets, I critically engaged (God, I’m so sick of that term) with theories like participatory culture, convergence culture, cultural phenomena and virality – my main theorist being Henry Jenkins. My dissertation used a LOT of terms related to viruses, like… infection and contagiousness and spreadability. Which I didn’t think much about… until COVID-19 happened. Good thing I didn’t accidentally submit my dissertation to Newcastle University’s Medical School instead. If not, I’d probably be leading efforts to find a cure for coronavirus right now. #ThankYouNHS and #ThankYouFrontliners!
I really finished my dissertation during a GLOBAL PANDEMIC. A deadly virus was being spread all over the world, causing much uncertainty and fear in all aspects of life. But with the grace of God I managed to do it despite these conditions:
- Being 10,000km away from my hometown and family, almost all my friends left me, university shut down, debating whether to go home or to stay in Newcastle, had to shift to online classes, no face-to-face consultations with lecturers, no face-to-face communication with coursemates, the inability to go outside, and dealing with irresponsible people fearmongering to us Malaysian students who chose to stay in the UK
- Zero access to my usual working spot (the library) and no university Wi-fi so I wasted so much unnecessary time logging in to journal websites
- While being horribly stressed out and angry about the coronavirus situation of two countries pretty much every day (mostly the UK though)
- While fasting 17 to 18 hours a day (3am to 8/9pm) and having a completely messed up sleep schedule
- In the midst of extreme stress and anxiety regarding a lot of things that had nothing to do with academia (mostly stemming from coronavirus) and messing with my wellbeing
- While battling crappy internet connection and finishing up 4 other assignments worth 7000 words and also an exam
- Without a proper Easter Break in which I was supposed to have fun traveling
- Despite having weeks’ worth of strikes at university which disrupted classes before coronavirus
I acknowledge that many other people have had it worse, of course. I didn’t have to climb up trees just to get stable internet connection, I just had to switch to mobile data. I heard news of people dying in the news, but nobody in my immediate circle was infected with the virus. Alhamdilillah – I still had a steady source of income (despite losing my photography job), food on the table, and my loved ones one call away.
Thank you Allah for easing my affairs and opening the doors to His rizq. Thank you to everyone who mentioned me in their prayers and gave me support. Thank you to Iffah, Aunty Nor, and Uncle Abrahim for nourishing me with love, shelter, and food. Thank you to whoever created video call applications. And special thanks to Newcastle University for prioritizing students’ wellbeing and allowing me to extend several deadlines. Completing my final year assessments in the midst of industrial action and the coronavirus outbreak was definitely not a bed of roses.
It was the last assignment I submitted before the start of my summer, before experiencing freedom (for probably the last time before going into the corporate world…). I didn’t expect my student life to end like this.
“Everybody wants a happy ending. Right? But it doesn’t always roll that way. Maybe this time. I’m hoping if you play this back, it’s in celebration. I hope families are reunited, I hope we get it back and something like a normal version of the planet has been restored, if there ever was such a thing. God, what a world. Then again, that’s the hero gig. Part of the journey is the end. What am I even tripping for? Everything’s gonna work out exactly the way it’s supposed to. I love you 3000 ♥️” (Tony Stark’s final speech, Avengers: Endgame)
Who knew Tony Stark’s last words at the end of Avengers: Endgame would be so relevant to me submitting my dissertation in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak? Just like how it was Tony’s hologram speaking instead of him, I’m posting a ‘hologram’ of myself in front of the Arches, as per the Newcastle University tradition when handing in dissertations.
Alhamdulillah, all praises to Allah. I’m extremely proud of my 10,000-word research: “#DontSpoilTheEndgame: An Investigation into Social Media Engagements with the Viral Phenomenon of Avengers: Endgame” ✨✨ – I worked hard on it and was VERY pleased with my findings, regardless of what grade I was to receive (it was a First, thankfully!).
I’d like to express a HUGE THANK YOU to everyone involved. My amazing supervisor and lecturers, course mates, blood-related family, chosen family, friends, proofreaders, questionnaire participants, Twitter users, strangers on the internet, and anyone else who has ever shown any form of support, and of course, my ultimate backbone, Mum and Dad – #ILoveYou3000!!!! 🎉
You can read the summarized findings of my research here. If you wish If you want to read the complete dissertation, e-mail me at email@example.com and I’ll send you a copy. Also this is pretty much the start of unemployment – so Marvel Studios, please hire me already!