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What to expect when you're expecting... to do postgraduate research

So, you’ve decided to pursue post-grad studies after your undergrad degree – first of all, welcome to a very niche pile of nerds. We are sure you’ll fit right in. But how exactly is a research degree (Honours, Masters and PhD) different to under graduate studies?

1. It’s basically a job

The biggest difference I found was how much work I needed to do/was expected of me. I had worked 15 hours a week all through my undergraduate degree, and this wasn’t possible for my research degree (Biomedical Science Honours) – I had to spend hours in the lab, and while the hours are flexible within reason, the sheer amount of research hours makes working very difficult. You also will be working in a team of people, who need things done at certain times (not just uni deadlines), which brings me to my second point:

2. Relationships & Responsibilites

The relationship you have with your supervisors/mentors (including informal ones like senior PhD or Masters students) are really different to those you have to lecturers in undergrad. As you’re doing research for them, you are treated like a member in a team, with valid opinions, concerns etc. You are also more responsible than you were in undergrad – research is expensive, hard and a team effort a lot of the time, so it’s important to do your best and if you say you’re going to do something you need to follow through with that; you can’t not turn up because you are tired that day or stop partway through an experiment because something is missing – you’ll need to actively seek help or risk wasting time and resources (and in science and engineering, these resources are often expensive or irreplaceable!).

3. Contribution

The fact you are responsible for a research project means that you are actively contributing to the scientific community. You’ll get to put all the skills & knowledge you learnt throughout your undergraduate degree to use, and generate new knowledge – it’s very possible at one point in your research, you are the only person in the world to know something new about your area of research, which is a cool feeling. You might even publish some of your work in a scientific journal, or it may form the basis of a bigger project. 

Overall, I guess my overall message is postgraduate research is much more like a job as a researcher than undergraduate studies. It’s hard work, and it is often disappointing because things to don’t work, but you’ll form amazing relationships with the people you research with and develop into your full beautiful nerd* potential. If you have any more questions, please seek me out at one of our events and I’ll be happy to chat more about it.

Much Love from your Prez,


*phrase straight stolen from Roman Mars of the 99% invisible podcast. Thanks Roman!

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