19 February 2019

A Company Sponsored Dissertation (CSD) can be a brilliant capstone to top off your year with UEBS. By working with a client on a real business problem, you can showcase what you've learnt over the past year in a practical setting. Perhaps you're feeling both ambitious and a little terrified, like I was when I took on a CSD as part of my MSc in Management. Here's what I wish I knew this time last year.
University of Edinburgh Business School students working on consultancy projects

Communication and Accountability Go Hand in Hand

Different clients have different preferences, but try to keep in close contact with your client and your supervisor. I opted for a weekly check-in and committed to this arrangement in my Memorandum of Understanding. Every weekend, I sent an email to my client and supervisor detailing my progress for the week, and my plan for the following week. I also scheduled meetings with my supervisor and client whenever needed. This was invaluable in keeping me accountable and helping me to stay on track with my plan.

And speaking of plans…

It Won't Go 100% as Planned—That's Exciting!

I'm not telling you to throw your plan out the window or neglect to plan at all.

A solid plan can be the difference between an excellent CSD and one that misses the mark for you and your client. Speaking to your supervisor, understanding the key stages of your CSD, and mapping them out realistically can help you to split what seems like an insurmountable task into bite-sized chunks. Things to look out for:

  • Your supervisor's internal deadlines for feedback
  • Your client's deadlines
  • Sufficient time for editing

Aim to submit at least a week or two before the official deadline, just so that you have a bit of buffer time too!

Despite all your planning, there are lots of factors that can affect the progress and direction of your research: client needs, data gathering, preliminary results, supervisor input… the list goes on. Just be ready to spring into action and adapt when things change! (Again, the importance of buffer time cannot be overstated!)

Clients Know What They Don't Want—But They Don't Always Know What They Want

Case in point: My friend, who was also doing a CSD, submitted three proposals to his client and was rejected on all three counts. So I asked him, "What does the client actually want you to do?" He said, "They don't know, but it clearly isn't what I proposed!"

What I'm saying is, schedule time at the start of the CSD process to properly get to know the client and the business. It takes a surprising amount of time to set expectations with your client and supervisor, and to fine-tune your research questions.

On a related note: sometimes, what clients think they want isn't necessarily best for their business. From a distance and with fresh eyes, you may be able to spot interesting and relevant research topics. You've developed the skills and knowledge throughout your Masters to make a real impact on your client's business—don't be afraid to share your ideas (tactfully!) with them.

A Small Client Can Be A Great Thing

Sure, we all like big names, but working on a CSD with a small business is a good idea because:

  • You can make a much bigger impact on a small business
  • You get to speak directly to those in charge
  • Things can move a lot more quickly!

My client was so thankful for the work that I did for her business. She was a keen learner and listener during our numerous meetings over lunch and coffee, and she even presented me with a token of gratitude at our final meeting. Before the submission of my CSD, she was already taking my preliminary findings on board and enacting changes in her business processes. Five months on, my client and I are still in contact—as friends!

A CSD is hard work, but it is also immensely rewarding. So roll up your sleeves and relish the challenge!

Ewin Teo, MSc Management