Today I got the feedback on my MA dissertation, which I submitted three weeks ago, and spent a good part of the early summer writing (it was torture). My tutor kindly headed her email as “Excellent dissertation”, so I knew it was OK from the off, and I made myself read the feedback comments from both markers before I turned to the mark (because we value feedback we can learn from more than we value marks, don’t we?).

Well, the feedback was very positive, encouraging and made suggestions as to how I might develop my dissertation into published academic papers if I choose to. So I felt great about that. And then I turned to the mark. Which was 82.

82?? That’s, like, a starred first, isn’t it? Stunning (I am stunned –). And thrilled. And the truth is that the mark does matter to me. The external validation does count for something. I would be less satisfied if I had only received the written comments, even though they were so positive and constructive.

When I (or a member of the family) does well, I experience a curious tension, that I’m sure will be familiar to many reading this. I both want to tell people, and I am concerned about appearing to boast. I am proud and embarrassed. And (for myself – less so for other family members) explanations which minimise the achievement flit across my mind. Fooled them yet again, didn’t I? ‘Course I did well – I wasn’t simultaneously holding down a teaching post, unllike other MA in Education students, was I? ‘Course I did well – my tutor was one of the markers, so it was in her interests to mark my work favourably. And even – ‘course I did well, because I am married to a Prof at the uni and so the markers couldn’t really mark me down —

Time not to be so British. Let me say it to myself, loud and clear:

“Yes, you had plenty of time to give to your dissertation. And yes, you worked bloody hard, and put a huge amount of effort into it. And although you find it torture, you are a bloody good writer. And that’s because, one way or another, you have always written – sometimes easily, but sometimes with great struggle (oh, and you’ve read quite a lot of good writing, too). You did well. Very well. It’s OK to be proud!”

Although my research topic had nothing to do with it, I think also there was some passion in my dissertation which may have communicated itself to my readers, and this relates to my breast screening/diagnosis experience. The passion was about power relationships in education. Because I felt, and still feel, that the medical establishment abused its power in getting me (ill-informed) to go for screening, I tried my utmost to make sure that I was as transparent as I could be with the school I worked in, the tutors I discussed my work with, and (most of all) the vulnerable little boys who were at the centre of my project. I wanted them to understand what was going on, I wanted them to have real choices about their involvement, and I wanted their views to come across. Ethics, you see – trying to ensure that those on the weaker side of the power relationship are, at the very least, not harmed, and might even benefit.

I still think it’s a bit boastful to put this post up. But what’s the worst that can happen? Here goes.



  1. This is great Elizabeth. There are times to be modest and times to be modestly proud and times to be resoundingly proud …. and this is the latter. You are an example to many of us.

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