Higher Degree Researcher Reflections

Reflections of a doctoral researcher for a PhD exploring aging well in the Torres Strait

Rachel Quigley

PhD Candidate, Medicine and Dentistry

Senior Research Fellow, Healthy Ageing Research Team, College of Medicine and Dentistry

James Cook University

I appreciate that every PhD journey is a different one, and experiences vary. To appreciate my expectations and experiences of supervision I will provide some context. I am a mature age candidate with a clinical background in health, now working within a supportive research team based at the same university where I am doing my PhD on a part-time basis. I have been involved in health research for several years, so I bring to my PhD fundamental research skills and topic knowledge. Furthermore, I came into this PhD journey off the back of a Master of Philosophy that I completed at a different university, so again had some idea of what was in store!

That said, the supervisory panel that I have remains invaluable. I appreciate that my supervisors recognise my experience in research, tailoring their input to my specific needs. I was definitely looking for a mentor and not a teacher. I think I would have been offended if I was treated the same way as someone who did not have the experience that I brought.

What I did find useful at the beginning of my candidature was completing the “Ingrid Moses Expectations of Candidates and their Advisory Team” checklist. The main benefit of the tool for me was using it as a building block to establish trust and clarify what my supervisory needs specifically were. Having both mine and my supervisor’s expectations clearly articulated from the beginning gave peace of mind.

Another valuable aspect that my supervisors bring, especially in the early days of candidature, relates to the practicalities of navigating the PhD enrolment and university requirements. Having someone to go to for advice and guidance, to ensure the appropriate paperwork has been submitted, and the correct mandatory training completed etc., made the prospect of the PhD less daunting. I like to be assured that I am doing the right thing and haven’t missed some crucial piece of administrative paperwork or training. Knowing my supervisors are there to guide me through the milestones is reassuring.

I am confident in my ability to conduct the practical side of my PhD, going out in the field to do data collection. However, where I benefit from input from my supervisors, is from the philosophical side and the deep thinking required in a PhD. I have appreciated my supervisors pushing me outside of my comfort zone, encouraging critical thinking, and challenging my ideas and thinking (in a constructive manner). I appreciated the literature my supervisor guided me towards and the encouragement to be an independent thinker.

The regular supervisory meetings, although at times seem too frequent, keep me accountable and on task. Setting deadlines especially for the writing components has kept momentum and the writing flowing. Without those goals and deadlines, the writing would have been pushed aside in lieu of the practical side of the research. In this sense, my supervisors have kept me grounded in the fact that it is a PhD and not just a research project that I am doing.

I am fortunate that my supervisors have always been accessible both for booked supervision sessions and for ad hoc catchups. I feel valued and appreciate that I can reach out whenever I need advice or feedback and am promptly replied to when I send emails. Feedback is timely and thoughtful. I genuinely feel there is an interest in my research, and I am supported when presenting my work, which is definitely an encouragement.

Lastly, I value the personal dimension that my supervisors bring. They are empathetic and understand the aspects of my “outside” life that may impact on my progression. There is no judgment but just support, understanding and encouragement. There is a genuine desire to see me succeed whilst providing opportunities to broaden my horizons and develop my career during my PhD journey.

Reflections of a PhD student on HDR supervision in a developing university research culture

Dora Jimela Kialo

PhD Student, Educational Leadership

University of Goroka, PNG

Lecturer-Deputy Director, Teaching and Learning Methods Unit

Papua New Guinea University of Technology

Carrying out research, writing up research proposals and research write up reports is a complicated task that requires elaborate writing skills. Scientific Writing Skills, as we know in academic writing are made up of many different subroutines, all of which are learned through practices that are integrated and connected appropriately with intricate step by step supervision at the initial stage. In research, we are trying to achieve many different goals all at the same time. The difficulties that face postgraduate students have become prominent in recent years. There are so many difficulties we encountered along the way, especially for those of us who have been out in the field for far too long before re-entering universities to study at the postgraduate level have become more prominent in recent years. In particular, attention is focused on completion rate of those doing PhD postgraduate studies in Papua New Guinea Universities.  We students expect professional expertise and guidance from our principal supervisors with additional support from co-supervisors. We want our supervisors to be interested in and be enthusiastic about our work.  Many times we find the supervisor is not well organized and readily available for discussion and help, especially online collaboration. It would be much easier if we did virtual collaborations in real time, but it is in reality not so.

Of the little research into Higher Education research practices in Papua New Guinea Universities, a high proportion of it (research) is done by students or by academics operating on behalf of the institutions and its management. I am arguing here that the lecturer in the School of Postgraduate Studies can raise their normal pattern of their classroom enquiries into a valuable contribution to educational research. I am arguing that the best research is done when associated with the development of educational practice as a research student. Indeed, I am arguing that together with other factors, it is distance from realities of classroom life that have rendered so much research sterile.

  1. How much educational research is done in my institution, by whom and to what effect?
  2. How can I make my own educational enquiries more systematic and thorough with very little supervision?

Undertaking research with a view to increasing knowledge, or influencing practice is very significant in building on some already existing knowledge and adding more, for example, with the technology use and the worth of the existing knowledge. I have gone to the existing libraries but I could not find any latest Journals on the research into Online Education nor any on learning management systems such as Google Classroom. This leaves me with more questions on how to re-interpret earlier results, compare predictive values, apply new methodology, and produce an application of an idea and so on.

I do understand that, in order to establish the purpose of a piece of educational research, one first has to locate it in the literature. But, where there is no old writing on that topic of research, how do I do the literature review?

I, therefore, strongly argue that the School of Postgraduate studies should employ full time lecturers to support Postgraduate students, many of whom have no research background or have forgotten the research skills that were handwritten a long time ago and that may have already been discarded.

In some other instances, some face to face contacts were made. But those contacts were sometime irrelevant and unnecessary. For example, in the first instant, some Principal supervisors do not give specific criteria such as the proposal guidelines or an outline of the thesis structure with required number of pages and or words for the first paragraph. There is so much mismatch between my supervisor and I in terms of real time collaboration as my study is geared towards technology oriented research or online ethnography. It has become very challenging to print and send every chapter, sometimes more than five times. It is challenging because I see a big gap between myself and my supervisor in terms of digital technological literacy and usage.

There are some supervisors who are very meticulous in their supervisory jobs which often see a successful passing and graduation of their students.

My supervisor’s style of supervision was direct in the initial and final stages of the research period with a lengthy quiescence in the middle.

I have tried to stay on course without additional support tailored for my specification- an online auto ethnography.

“We are on this journey together”: Reflections of a doctoral researcher learning and growing with his advisory panel

Muhamad Alif Bin Ibrahim

PhD Student, Society & Culture

James Cook University

 “We are on this journey together”. Reflecting on my journey as a third-year PhD candidate at James Cook University (JCU), these words from my primary advisor early on in my candidature still resonate with me today. My personal growth as an individual and my journey as a researcher today would not have been possible without my advisory panel’s guidance, encouragement, and support.

Making Decisions as a Team

Since embarking on my candidature with JCU, I have always felt like part of a team with my supervisors. We would deliberate and make decisions collectively about the research questions and studies required for my PhD. This collaborative manner of making decisions also grounded the ways in which I navigated my PhD milestones and various challenges that arose during the candidature. These included the various times when I had to make changes to my initial plans and studies due to new findings arising from the literature or empirical research, as well as considering the time and resources we had when I had to take some time away to deal with health and personal issues that impacted my family. My supervisors were there every step of the way, providing me with support and encouragement. As a result, I wasn’t made to feel like I was navigating and negotiating this PhD journey all on my own.

Sense of Trust and Psychological Safety

There was also a sense of trust and psychological safety that was established with my advisory panel at the beginning and that still remains today. My advisory panel always welcomed my questions, and I never felt afraid to highlight my worries regarding the PhD. If I had concerns about whether a particular analytical method would work or if my data collection would go according to plan, I could voice these without fear of reprisal.

I felt that the advisory panel valued all my contributions and work, no matter how small. Every PhD milestone I achieved and every piece of writing I accomplished were regarded as important, valuable aspects that contributed to my growth as a researcher. These included the coursework modules I undertook during my PhD and presentations at small-scale seminars and big conferences. I could also openly discuss my future aspirations and career needs with the advisory panel, whether these were about doing a postdoctoral fellowship overseas at well-known institutions or seeking advice on academic and teaching positions. Discussion also included advice regarding the types of funding available and the universities I could consider, as these institutions were very strong in the research areas, I was interested in.

Because of this sense of trust and psychological safety, I also did not view feedback and comments that I received on my written work as negative. On the contrary, I always looked forward to receiving my supervisor’s input as I saw how their perspectives and comments value added to my research work. Their feedback was insightful as they highlighted various points and views that I may not have thoroughly considered while writing my papers. Furthermore, their comments and feedback were always well-considered, respectful, and thoughtful. Hence, I saw them as ways my supervisors were lifting me up to become a better writer and researcher.

Learning and Growing Together

Lastly, I felt my supervisors were open to learning and growing together with me throughout my candidature. While I would formally meet my supervisors once a month to update them on my research findings and challenges that arose, I also had informal meetings and discussions with my primary supervisor every two weeks or so. These catchups enabled me to discuss any challenges that I was facing in a particular week or simply just share what I would be doing with my partner over the weekends and holidays. If any issues needed to be escalated further, my primary supervisor would proactively seek advice and guidance from the other panel members or research deans. These formal and informal meetings were valuable in ensuring they remained accessible to me as a PhD candidate. My supervisors were also willing to try different ways of collecting and analysing data, being open to any surprises that I found as part of my research findings, and adapting my research to these emergent findings. Knowing that my supervisors were there to learn and grow with me has helped allay my fears and anxiety about the uncertainty I faced in doing research as part of my PhD candidature.



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