Research degrees: FAQs

Research degrees: FAQs

In Australia, there are two types of postgraduate research degrees ” a masters degree by research and a research doctorate, with the latter commonly referred to as a PhD. While completing one of these degrees can be very rewarding, it is also demanding and requires a lot of dedication and time. If research is on your radar, we look at what you need to know before you apply.

What ™s involved in a research degree?

Research degrees involve extensive research into a topic of interest, usually presented in the form of a thesis. For a masters by research, the thesis is usually around 20,000 to 50,000 words, while at doctoral level, it ™s 70,000 to 100,000 words ” but keep in mind that word limits vary between disciplines. Note that honours years and some masters by coursework programs feature a minor research component, resulting in a shorter thesis of around 10,000 words. In addition to the thesis, it ™s common for candidates to produce smaller pieces of research throughout their program, such as journal articles, conference presentations or book chapters.

Although you work under the guidance of a supervisor, research degrees involve a lot of independent work. While you may complete a few coursework subjects, most of your time will be spent conducting research.

What should I look for in an institution?

While undergraduate and postgraduate coursework degrees can be found at all types of institutions (including select TAFEs and private providers), research degrees are offered by universities only. When it comes to research, it ™s vital that you take time to explore your options before jumping into a degree. Start by looking at the strengths and specialties at each university and decide if they align with your personal interests. It ™s also worth investigating potential supervisors and if the university offers any grants or scholarships.

What are the entry requirements for a research degree?

Entry requirements for research degrees vary substantially between universities and fields of study. Some have strict prerequisites, requiring a certain grade average, previous research experience and completion of a qualification within a closely related area, while others are more flexible. For masters degrees, entry typically requires completion of a bachelor degree (usually with honours), or demonstration of equivalent research experience. To gain entry to a research doctorate, you will usually need a masters by research or bachelor honours degree, although it may be possible to upgrade to a PhD after a year of masters study.

How do I apply for a research degree?

Applications for research degrees are generally more involved than those for coursework programs. First, you will need to decide on a research area or faculty and choose a program, ensuring you meet the entry requirements. The next step is to contact potential supervisors (see below) and start developing a research topic. Finally, once you ™ve decided on a topic, you ™ll need to submit a research proposal along with any supporting documents. Depending on the university, and the nature of your research, you may need to submit an ethics application. At this point, you should also investigate whether you are eligible for any scholarships or grants and apply for these as well.

Can I choose my supervisor?

Some universities require you to find your own supervisor, while others allocate one based on their expertise in your area. In some cases, you ™ll have multiple supervisors. If you are free to choose your own, consider things such as academic credentials, their reputation within the industry and the research they have produced themselves (and how closely it relates to your own interests).

How do I choose a research degree topic?

There are many things to consider when choosing a topic. You want to consider the scope of the topic ” ensuring there ™s enough depth for you to be able to expand, explore and develop your research to an appropriate level of detail. On the flipside, picking a topic that ™s too broad can leave you feeling overwhelmed. Other things to consider are whether your topic aligns with a more extensive research project (and if there are any opportunities for you to gain funding or find a spot on a research team) and what research currently exists in the area. Ideally, you want to find a gap in knowledge and literature.

Can I change my research focus?

While not encouraged, it ™s possible for you to change things up once you commence your degree. To do this, you usually need to seek approval from your school or faculty, although each university will have its own policy regarding change of candidature. It may also be necessary to change the submission date of your thesis, depending on the extent of your change.

How long does it take?

Many research students study part time due to work and other commitments, so completion of these degrees can take many years ” sometimes six or more. Masters degrees by research usually take around one to two years of full-time study, while PhDs are typically completed over three to four years.

How much does it cost? Can I access financial assistance?

Domestic students undertaking research degrees may be entitled to a government-funded place through the Research Training Scheme (RTS). Unlike the Commonwealth Supported Places offered to undergraduate students, RTS students are not required to repay their tuition fees. In addition, students may be eligible for scholarships or grants (offered by both the government and universities), including Australian Postgraduate Awards. See Financial assistance for research students for more information.

What are my employment opportunities while studying?

Many research candidates choose to work at the university while they complete their thesis. This may include acting as a lecturer or tutor in a lower qualification program or finding work as a research assistant.

Where can it lead?

Completing a research degree can open doors to a number of opportunities, whether you plan to continue down the academic path or apply your knowledge in the workforce. Once you have submitted your thesis, you can look to have it published in an academic journal. In terms of career prospects, a research degree can increase your chances of gaining employment at the upper echelon of your field. For those interested in academia, a PhD is usually a requirement.

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