Rees Quilford, PhD candidate
School of Media and Communication, RMIT University
The start of Australia’s 2022 academic year sees thousands of PhD and Masters by Research candidates commencing their graduate research journey at institutions across Australia.
These passionate new research students will enviably be well versed in university life and its administrative processes but embarking on a sustained research project is an altogether different undertaking. This exciting and sometimes daunting change often involves a significant shift in mindset but also requires different routines and skills.
The early stages of the research journey, and the habits which are established during that time, offers opportunities to equip students with the tools they need to successfully navigate their graduate research experience.
While specialised equipment, platforms and systems will vary in different fields of study, there are a number of resources for managing, aiding and supplementing the typical day-to-day routines common to most projects.
An awareness of, and access to, these tools can play a critical role in setting candidates up for success. That being the case, I have compiled a list of resources and considerations that were helpful in the early stages of my research journey.
I hope they are useful to both students and supervisors as they navigate the day-to-day demands of the research process.
1. Candidature planning and scheduling templates
Effective time management, scheduling and tracking is critical to ensuring successful outcomes for any large-scale project.
Tailored templates to help with writing, planning and collaboration can be highly useful tools for students and supervisors throughout the graduate research experience, especially given much of the activity will be self-guided.
Free downloadable templates tailored to PhD students, researchers and universities can be sourced from multiple places. ThinkWell is one Australian based online resource that offers customised templates such as thesis planners, team writing tools, 3MT templates and many other tailored resources.
2. Presentation templates
The PowerPoint presentation is a cornerstone activity common to nearly all academic, research and indeed most professional fields.
Whether it’s delivering a conference presentation, preparing for a candidature milestone appearance, giving a public lecture or delivering teaching activities having access to easy to use and understand presentation templates helps no end.
One way to reduce some of the stress associated with impending deadlines is to prepare several different presentation template options in advance.
Exploring the branded resources offered by your host university is a good place to start. These can often be located in, and downloaded from, the student, teaching and/or research portals of your institution’s respective website. Familiarising yourself with these tools can provide ready access to a range of useful resources.
A wide range of customisable presentation templates are also available via the Microsoft PowerPoint application. Most can be easily modified to suit different purposes.
For those looking for something more elaborate, the design and publishing provider Canva offers a free subscription plan option. This Australian based online service encompasses an enormous array of sophisticated presentation options which can be adapted to suit different research purposes.
3. Free image collections
As mentioned above, print and digital presentations are a regular and important part of almost all research endeavours. Integrating engaging imagery to these presentations often goes a long way when communicating research findings and outputs. The inclusion of bold and relevant imagery can improve accessibility and add impact to those presentations.
Online providers such as Upslash and Pexels offer free images and photos for download and use. These platforms have their own license conditions, which essentially allow for the free use of the images. This offers students and academics a cost effective (i.e., free) alternative to royalty free or stock photography providers.
4. Collaboration tools
With so many online collaboration options available it’s sometimes difficult to know where to start. However, the increased normalisation of digital collaboration due to the COVID-19 pandemic as meant most universities have boosted the support and information available for these platforms.
Carefully thinking through what types of interactions will take place and the collaboration needs that will likely be required is a key consideration. The platform(s) you choose may also depend on which services are supported by your host institution.
It is worthwhile taking the time in the early stages of any research project to explore the pros and cons of different platforms.
5. IT systems, data storage and student support
Students and supervisors will engage with numerous IT platforms, administrative systems and support services throughout the graduate research journey. The IT team at your host institution will inevitably be a crucial support service at many stages.
Ask questions and explore the IT resources and support services offered by your host institution early on. Developing an understanding of how the enquiry and issue management process works is a decidedly useful thing to do.
Data storage is another fundamental consideration to all research activities. In order to avoid the inconvenience and distress of losing work it is important to establish robust storage and backup processes from the outset.
An understanding of your obligations in relation information and research data storage is also crucial. While it may not seem like it, reading through the relevant data management policies of your host institution is time well spent. The Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research offers another important and useful reference point.
Finally, the graduate research support team as well as the library and IT staff at your host institution will be invaluable points of reference throughout the study journey. They know the processes, systems and your entitlements. Make an effort to get to know them! You won’t regret it.
Photo by Janko Ferlič via Unsplash.