Learning and Development/Research Life

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Research degree in Australia

Gathering of UNSW Filo Ph.D. students (2019).

Getting into a research degree

Identify a specific research field before you consider applying for a research degree. This must not be too broad, e.g. chemistry and medicine, since this may not be helpful in selecting a research topic. It could also be a combination of multiple fields. You may wish, for instance, to do a PhD on the cost-effectiveness of vaccines. This will involve the fields of clinical medicine, public health, and health economics. You should be passionate in the field that you have selected as you will be working on this for the next 3-4 years. Ideally, you should have had experiences on your chosen field. This prior experience will be helpful in developing your proposal and in making your application stand out.

Identify a tentative research topic in your chosen field. This is tentative; it may change as you study the field and discuss with your supervisor/s. It is also helpful if you can develop a brief of your research topic, no longer than 1-2 paragraphs. The goal is that you have a research topic to discuss when you are communicating with your prospective supervisors. Furthermore, the supervisor may get the impression that you are serious in your application and that you already know something on the topic, which increases your chance of being accepted.

Search for a supervisor and a university. Some prefer selecting a university first before selecting a supervisor. They mostly go after the “highly-ranked” universities. One disadvantage of this approach is that the university that you selected may not have the expert that you need for your PhD. PhD, and in general a research degree, works on a mentorship system where your supervisor will be your primary mentor for the next 3-4 years. As such, selecting a supervisor is very important. One strategy in searching for supervisors is searching research databases (e.g. PubMed) for researchers who are experts and have had impact in your chosen field. You may also look into their online profiles as most of these researchers have profiles in their university’s website. An applicant could also contact the past advisees (especially those who have already completed their research degrees) of a prospective supervisor before selecting one. This will help the applicant to get feedback on how your prospective supervisor works. While it may be tempting to select the most renowned and prolific or published researcher in your field, take note that these people are very busy and may not have sufficient time for proper supervision.

Contact the supervisor you identified to know their availability to supervise you for your research degree. This is also the time when you could start the discussion on your research idea and the brief you developed. The supervisor will likely request your CV so ensure that its ready and that you have sufficient skills and experience for your application to stand out. Hopefully the supervisor will accept you. This may also be the time when you develop a proposal which is more detailed than your brief. The requirements for this proposal vary by institution and even by supervisor so it is important that you closely coordinate with your supervisor. This is usually a requirement before an institution can admit you into their PhD program.


Education in Australia is expensive, and a research degree is not an exception. Fortunately, there are scholarships which applicants can apply for. Universities often provide scholarship for both international and domestic students. DFAT also offers scholarship although this is usually targeted to international students. These include the Australia Awards Scholarship and the Endeavour Scholarship. Aside from these two, i.e. universities and DFAT, there may be other sponsors of scholarships, such as the industry.

Entitlements provided by these scholarships often include waiver of tuition fee, overseas student health coverage (OSHC) for international students, and a stipend (which usually starts at AUD 27,000 per annum, tax-free). Entitlements, however, vary by scholarship. In UNSW for instance, a Scientia Scholarship provides AUD 40,000.00 stipend per annum, AUD 10,000.00 for career development (which may be used for training, workshops, and conferences, and coverage of OSHC), visa fee and other visa-related cost (e.g. physical examination), and relocation cost. Australia Awards Scholarship, on the other hand, provides a generous AUD 3,000.00 establishment costs and even return plane fares.

Due to these generous entitlements, application into these scholarships tend to be highly competitive. An applicant must prepare in advance for his/her application. Support or recommendation from supervisors in the home country and in Australia are also often requested during the application. It is important that an applicant looks into the requirements and timelines for these scholarships.

It is also important that an applicant looks into the terms and conditions of the scholarship that he/she is applying for. AAS, for instance, requires scholars to be out of Australia for at least two years after competition of the degree, which may have implications if you plan to stay in the country for a longer time.

Ph.D. Journey

Year 1

Research students spend their first few months getting familiar with higher education and in Australia in general. Some things that new Filipino research students in Australia may observe are the egalitarian environment and the highly independent course of study. Unlike in the Philippines, students call their supervisors by their first name, and not by “Sir” or “Maam”. Research students in Australia, are likewise expected be highly independent with their research. Some supervisors only meet the advisee just once a month or even less, although a weekly or fortnightly meeting may be more common especially in the first year.

The first year is also the time when students focus on their literature review and in developing a detailed proposal. The details on these literature review and proposals vary by institution. In general, however, the literature review should demonstrate that student has reviewed the literature comprehensively and that his proposed research is not a duplication of what has been done or has failed to consider an important aspect. The proposal, on the other hand, must demonstrate that the student is capable of developing and detailed proposal which is feasible to accomplish in 3 years. The literature review and proposal are often needed prior to the confirmation.

Research students also spend their first year developing skills which they will need to do their research. They can enrol into different courses, attend training, and participate in workshops. A research student can usually “audit” a course/subject, wherein the student will just attend the class for information but will not be required to accomplish the assessments. This, however, varies by course and it is best to coordinate with the course convenor.

The confirmation is, arguably, the highlight of the first year. During the confirmation, the student presents his literature review, proposal, and his progress to a panel of experts from their institution along with their supervisors. It is the time when the institution decides, based on the student’s performance, if the student will progress in his/her PhD or if they may have to cancel his PhD due to his unsatisfactory performance. Alternatively, unsatisfactory performance may be a reason for a PhD program to be converted into a master’s degree. The confirmation also provides an opportunity to identify the challenges in the first year and strategies on how to address these challenges.

Year 2-3

[To be filled out]

Year 4 (Completion)

[To be filled out]