The dissertation is often promoted as a means of advancing autonomous learning. It is said to offer the potential for students to move along a continuum from dependence to independence. This research used interviews with a small sample of students to obtain a better understanding of the way students approach the dissertation process. The study found that the extent to which students operated autonomously depended upon a complex set of factors determining what Rokeach in 1973 refers to as their ‘competency values’. The study concluded that in order to obtain a better understanding of the values underpinning the behaviour of their students, dissertation tutors should be prepared to enter into a dialogue with them. This process would also involve encouraging students to critically reflect on how they planned to undertake the dissertation.