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Adjusting to Life as a Research Student

The relatively unstructured nature of research is very different from the study mode that you would have experienced as an undergraduate or postgraduate coursework student; there are fewer fixed deadlines to meet and much longer periods of time between them.

Even more significant, you are embarking on a process of discovery, in many cases through trial and error.

There will not always be someone there who can steer you in the right direction or confirm that you have the 'correct' answer and it is quite likely that at some point during your candidature, things won't go the way that you expected (or wanted them to).

While individual students will have different experiences of undertaking a higher degree by research, it is important to realise that some of the hurdles to completion will be emotional and these may be more difficult to conquer than the practical problems.

During the course of your degree you are likely to experience several emotions, many positive (intellectual stimulation, challenge, curiosity, understanding, the excitement of new discovery) and some negative (frustration, impatience, failure, fear).

On balance, most students find research to be a rewarding experience, but for those times when you're feeling overawed by it all, the top five strategies for survival are to:

  • Seek the support of others,be they friends, family other research students in your School, your supervisor(s) or a University counsellor. The more people that you can talk to the better
  • Develop self-management techniques that work for you
  • Learn and understand the research process and what to expect at each stage of your candidature
  • Engage with the research culture of your School and the University; and of course
  • Have a life outside of research! Make time for yourself, your friends and family and the activities that you enjoy.

You also need a supervisor who understands your needs and is able to support and develop them. Don't be afraid to tell your supervisor if you are struggling; he or she was a research student once and will remember the challenges of their own candidature.


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