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Research degrees provide access to like-minded peers and a very deep understanding in a very narrow field. However, the ability to express our ideas in an engaging way outside of our fields, or to think about our research in professional or even commercial contexts beyond academia, are areas that are often neglected. But where do we find the training resources needed to hone these skills, and how do we find the time to practice them?

Postgraduate students tend to focus on interactions within our research groups and schools, and there’s no real structured opportunities for us to meet, interact, and discover new collaborations. The University could help by providing more avenues for us to present talks on our research, or interesting papers or developments in our fields, plus more general-purpose social or mixer-type events, poster sessions, and so on. These fora would also encourage interdisciplinary interactions, giving us broader perspectives outside of our own fields and developing potential collaborative links for the future.

Professional skill training is also vital. While many pursue a research degree as a pathway to academia, many others use it as a stepping-stone into advanced industry work. Access to preparatory courses and events would greatly enhance the skills of industry-bound students, many of whom wish to start their own companies, or move into management-level positions. These could include business skills and regulations, human resources and management, guidelines on creating startup companies, networking sessions with potential employers, investors and peers, and so forth. More academically-focused courses could also be offered; writing research grants, giving academic job talks, intellectual property, or commercialisation - and these could be run in parallel with sessions for research staff. All of these skills are competitive advantages for research students, and will greatly assist us in achieving our career goals.

Wherever possible, additional training should be supported in a way that doesn’t detract from the high quality of graduate research being performed at the University. Thus, training needs to have minimal impact on the time available for research. Many research students require the full length of their candidature and funding to complete their projects - particularly MPhil students who must finish in a more compressed timeframe. Perhaps extra time of candidature (and funding) could be extended to research students to allow them to adequately complete research training as well as their projects. Not all students will require the extra time and funding, but it should be available to them if necessary.

Research training should be complementary to research, and be implemented with the aim of improving graduate outcomes. This primarily comes through courses to develop skills that are not typically developed in research, and avenues to communicate and interact with the diverse body of research students across the university.

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Professor Marie Carroll, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Academic Affairs) has read Dom’s post and replied:

Thanks, Dominick, for summing up some of the big issues about training as part of the HDR experience. This is an important part of the University’s strategy on the PhD to prepare the research professionals of the future. From this year, every student now has to undertake a Research Training Need Analysis annually with their supervisor to identify what their training needs are each year.

The University is doing its best to provide this training on a Faculty or Division basis. We certainly agree that students should have opportunities to speak to each other about their research, and many faculties or schools do run student conferences and seminars (such as the Research Conversazione in Engineering & Information Technologies). These are a great way for HDR students to speak about their own research and hear about what other students are doing.

At a University-wide level, the 3 Minute Thesis Competition is an interesting and fun way for HDR students to hear about each other’ research. The finals will be held at Open Day on 31 August.

We are currently developing good information for students about the training opportunities for HDR students, but we certainly recommend students look at the free courses from the Learning Centre and Careers Centre in the meantime.

Marie


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Dominick is a PhD candidate in the School of IT. Find out more about his work.

Find out more about the University's support project for postgraduate research student training.

Thinking about joining us? Start here!

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