Professional Skills or Dissertation - Which should you choose?
2021-12-22

The University of Aberdeen offers a unique opportunity as part of many of its postgraduate taught programmes in law to choose between a dissertation or Professional Skills course. But what is ‘Professional Skills’ and how do you choose which option to take? 

Professional Skills is an intensive three week course that you will take in May-June of your Masters programme. For all programmes, except for LLM Commercial Law’s Professional Arbitration Skills, the first week will be spent in key skills workshops focussing on presentation skills, writing skills, culture and teamwork. The subsequent two weeks will then be spent in your programme specific groups working on tasks, group presentations and reports - all of which are guided by industry experts in your chosen fields. For the Arbitration Skills course, the programme specific work starts in week one due to the increased complexity of the programme.

Although this course is only three weeks of teaching, this doesn’t mean that you will have a totally free summer once this is done. All of the courses have a number of assessments, some of which take place during the preliminary three weeks, and other, longer pieces of work which will have their final deadlines in August, similar to the dissertation. Professional Skills is by no means the ‘easy’ choice, but it is a very good choice for a number of reasons - including but not limited to: 

  1. It provides excellent opportunities to collaborate with your peers from around the world and enhance your professional network.
  2. It is taught by leading professionals in each respective field to provide you with relevant insights into what your career could look like post-LLM.
  3. The assessments and feedback will provide you with guidance on how to prepare professionally written reports and presentations which are incredibly valuable for any career path you choose.

The Professional Skills option also allows you more time to settle into university life here in Aberdeen, particularly if you are starting in January. Students who choose to take the dissertation option will have to start choosing their topic, selecting supervisors and preparing plans for their project during late February and March, whereas Professional Skills requires no prior preparation until May. This means that you can fully invest your time and energy into your January semester. 

Even if you plan to pursue a PhD following your Masters, Professional Skills does not limit you in this. While it may be more logical to write a Masters thesis if you are choosing the academic route later on, the research and writing skills gained in the Professional Skills courses remain a valuable asset on any PhD application.

For me personally, this experience connected me with some of the people who have become my greatest friends. It has also been so beneficial in improving my professional confidence and my understanding of the cross-disciplinary nature of my future role as an Energy Lawyer. We learned not just about the law, but also about project finances, stakeholder engagement and many other things. The practical approach to learning (although somewhat more challenging in the online format last summer) kept me engaged with my studies more than I might otherwise have been during a self-directed dissertation project.

It can be challenging to choose between the dissertation and Professional Skills options, but you will be provided with even more information about each of the courses during your orientation week. You will also have ample opportunity to speak with Programme Coordinators and Law School staff who will be more than happy to help you in making the right choice for you. 

Published by School of Law, University of Aberdeen

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