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Develop your personal capacities

Adapt to your new role

Starting a research degree for most people involves moving into new territory. Whether you have come from full-time work, from undergraduate study, or from working or studying in another country, becoming a student researcher involves taking on a new role. If you have just completed an undergraduate degree, you may feel that you are expected to be more independent, and that your supervisor treats you less as a student and more as a colleague. On the other hand, if you have been working in a professional field where you are an expert at what you do, it may feel like going back to school. If you have come to study in Australia for the first time, you probably find that in addition to these changes, the ways people relate to each other and communicate in an academic setting are sometimes different from your home country.

In this new situation it is often difficult to know what is expected of you, and whether you are doing well or not. Your old, familiar ways of working this out may not seem to apply. Just like a traveller in an unfamiliar country, you need to observe how the 'locals' do things, how they communicate, and not be afraid to ask questions. There are many ways and opportunities to learn the new requirements; it is important to be open to the experience. New beginnings are never easy, but remember you are not alone.

"Postgraduate work represents a change in the direction of where praise comes from. As an undergraduate you write to 'please' your tutors, but as a postgraduate you are writing for the approval of the wider world-your examiners and the research community"

Dr. Chris Worth, School of English, Communications and Performance Studies

Develop your Personal Resources

Writing a thesis is a long and complex process. While much of the time you will feel excited and intellectually challenged with the novelty of ideas and findings, you must understand that realistically this cannot be true of every moment and phase of candidature. There are factors that are beyond your control. Experiments may not produce the desired results, equipment may fail, you may suddenly find that your novel thought or discovery has already been discovered by someone else. There are times when you will need to be resilient and show tenacity in the face of difficulties, to appreciate that the higher degree path is not always linear and there may be unanticipated hurdles. Just the extent of the task can at times seem quite daunting, and it is important to not be overwhelmed by having to organise apparently gigantic amounts of material.

It is helpful to identify your personal attributes and cultivate them. Remember, it is not only intellectual ability, but hard work and persistence that contribute to achieving the desired results. Become your own support; develop personal qualities of persistence, tenacity and resilience. These personal capacities will help you to complete your research degree and will stand you in good stead in other areas of your life.

Develop your support structures

It is very important, therefore, to take advantage of the support services offered by the university, and to develop networks of people you can turn to for advice and support.

Writing a thesis is an individual task, but the processes of research and writing are similar for everyone. It can often be far more beneficial than you would imagine to share your learning, issues, concerns, reading and research process with other students in your discipline, even though your individual projects may be very different.

You can gain practical and emotional support and increased learning from peer networks. Try to establish your own peer network with a small number of students in your faculty - with regular informal meetings, where you can present your work and discuss issues in a supportive, concerned, affirming and non-threatening environment.

Find out what your department offers. Participate in seminars and present papers where possible and appropriate.

Contact with others working in your field is important for you to develop a sense of how your work fits in with what is being done by others. A good place to start making these contacts is through on-line discussion lists in your field. As you progress in your research, you should also attend relevant conferences, and these are often publicised through discussion lists.

The university offers a number of support services.

  • Health, Wellbeing and Developmentopens in a new window has qualified counsellors who can provide advice on family and financial problems and adjusting to a new culture.
  • Learning Skillsopens in a new window provides advice on academic writing-whether English is your first language or not.
  • Monash Postgraduate Associationopens in a new window is a good place to meet other postgraduate students. They can also provide good advice relating to your supervision or the university administration.
  • The Libraryopens in a new window is an important source of support for your research activities, with expert staff to offer advice and a range of services providing access to research materials.
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