How Should I Select My Research Topic and Supervisors?
Please note. This content is from the 2018 Research Student Handbook and should only be used as a guide. Please refer to the 2019 Research Student Handbook PDF for current information.
Choosing a research topic, the school in which you will undertake your research and the supervisors who will assist you through the process of completing your degree are some of the most important decisions you will make. By thoroughly investigating your options before you commence candidature, you can avoid some of the more common difficulties that new students can face.
Before applying for admission, it is recommended that you discuss your proposed research project and how it matches with the research interests of your school of enrolment. It is not uncommon for a candidate in a laboratory-based discipline to be offered a choice of topic from a number of well defined projects, consistent with the interests of the school's research groups. Candidates in non-experimental fields may have the freedom to choose their own topic within wider limits.
In general terms, research projects undertaken in the University's areas of research strength have the advantage of having a concentration of resources and facilities and a lively research culture which stems from a critical mass of good students and research staff. In addition, it is important to remember that not all research topics have the necessary scope for a higher degree by research. Others are too big to be completed within the timeframe for the degree and some topics may not be able to be supervised or resourced within the University.
Ensuring that you choose a research project that can be well supervised and resourced within your school of enrolment can prevent disappointment and wasted time later in candidature. If you do not have particular supervisor(s) in mind, contact the head of school or postgraduate coordinator and ask who is likely to be nominated to supervise you and then arrange to meet or talk to your proposed supervisors to ensure that you are comfortable with the school's choice and that they will have the expertise, experience and time required to supervise you well.
Where possible, it is a good idea to talk to other members of the research group or school about your proposed supervisors and their track record of supervision and to ask other research students who are supervised by these staff whether or not they are happy with the amount of support they have received.
Considerations in Addition to Academic Requirements
It is advisable that you and your prospective school to consider a number of other criteria before a higher degree by research candidature is offered or accepted. For example:
- Is the school appropriate for your proposed research, and does it have the space, facilities and resources that your project is likely to require?
- Is the school able to provide quality, experienced panel supervision comprising a principal and at least one co- or external supervisor for the duration of the research program?
- Is there a sufficient level of similarity between your research interests and background and those of your prospective supervisors?
- Do you have the capacity to meet the ongoing time, logistical and other requirements of candidature (particularly if you are in employment, or are applying as a half-time or remote student or are intending to also pursue other studies)?
- Are you able to support yourself for the duration of your research program through receipt of a scholarship or other means? (Note that even if you are able to secure scholarship funding, the duration of your scholarship [3 to 3.5 years] may be less than that of your research program [up to four years].)
- scholarship holders and (normally) full-time candidates are restricted to a maximum of 8 hours of work per week during normal working hours.