At the postgraduate level, there are several variations in the mode of learning that are different in the way of how students are being taught and what is expected from them. Among them is the ability to carry out independent studies and to be able to engage in research activities independently and successfully. There are several reasons as to why graduate students need to develop these skills and why research activities are important to them:
Graduate students should develop research skills with guidance from experts in the field that would enable them to translate this knowledge and experience to their own research projects and activities.
Through their engagement and active participation in research projects and activities, graduate students are expected to become independent researchers that can provide them with essential and ample experience in future research work and progress.
Graduate students involvement in research activities can contribute to the development of a research community in the department through the collaboration of senior or junior researchers with students. Apart from that, the practice can encourage and develop partnerships involving faculty, students, staff and community organizations as a foundation for community-based research.
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The research collaboration network can provide a platform for rigorous discussion among academic scholars and graduate students.
These activities can also provide opportunities for graduate students to share research findings through departmental seminars or conferences while receiving feedback from other graduate students and academic staff.
Such activities provide first-hand experience, support comparative research at various scales, and introduce new methodologies and analytical techniques in order to gain new insights that can be beneficial for graduate students.
Provide opportunities for the development of teamwork, creativity, critical thinking and communication skills among graduate students in all disciplines.
Increase support and recognition of research graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, and research associates.
Most universities would have an induction programme for newly registered graduate students. Usually the induction programme will be carried out by the Institute of Graduate Studies or Graduate School for briefing of general information relating to rules and regulations, policies and procedures, financial matters and facilities at the institute and university in general. In all cases, graduate students are encouraged to attend this induction programme at the beginning of their studies. The induction programme should provide students with some guidance and get them to be accustomed to the institute or graduate school. Graduate students should be informed on the funding opportunities that they can apply for. Such opportunities can be in the form of financial assistantship, for instance, in the form of graduate research assistant scheme (GRA) or teaching assistant scheme (TA). Besides providing support and financial assistance to postgraduate students, the GRA scheme also aims to provide opportunities for students to carry out research work at Masters and Ph.D. level with the guidance of leading researchers/professors. Usually the grants for this type of research come from various sources such as Ministry of Science and Technology (MOSTI) or even private organizations. In this way, students can improve networking and have a wider research-based experience.
Academic induction should also be carried out at the faculty level. The Faculty induction usually revolves around academic matters, introduction to courses and respective lecturers and also assigned supervisors. This will provide students with necessary information on the graduate programmes that they registered, the kind of facilities at the faculty that are made available to them, processes and procedures involved in the course of pursuing their post-graduate studies and most importantly the introduction of all the academic staff and support staff at the faculty. Graduate students are encouraged to meet their supervisors from the onset of their programme to discuss and plan their academic journey with their supervisors. At the graduate level, it is of paramount importance for students to view their own learning and development as a partnership between them and their supervisors. Besides that, students should be encouraged not only to work closely with their supervisors but also seek advice from other academic staff at the faculty. This will encourage networking and collaboration among academic staff with graduate students. It is important for graduate students to be made aware of the department research niche or strengths so that their research will contribute to the development of existing research. This contribution should be encouraged among graduate students as it will enhance their academic performance.
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In both of the induction programme discussed above, it is vital for graduate students to know the sources for getting information in all aspects related to their studies. Therefore, both the school of graduate studies and the respective faculties need to ensure that information is delivered fast and widespread. The easiest and fastest way is through the graduate school website or the faculty website. This website must be constantly updated and it should display current information relevant to post-graduate studies. Important information such as available sponsorships, research grants and research funds are certainly news which should not be missed. Other information include important dates such as registration, examinations, academic calendar year, invitations to seminars, conferences, workshops, academic talks and current news and information pertaining to graduate studies. The information provided would benefit students tremendously and would contribute to the enhancement of the graduate programmes offered.
A half day seminar with senior postgraduate students can be arranged by the faculty so that new students will get acquainted with their seniors who share similar research interests. This will provide opportunities for academic discussion among students where they can exchange ideas, experiences, problems and challenges on matters related to their studies. Such discussion can provide new graduate students with insights on what to expect from their programmes and how they could benefit from the experience of others.
Postgraduates can also be encouraged to attend workshops and courses meant for academic staff. Some of these workshops cover topics such as lecturing, tutoring, assessment of assignments, group work, using power point presentations. Besides this, the University of Otago, New Zealand, recently launched a 10 week programme to train postgraduates who are interested to become academic staff. During this programme, postgraduates are introduced to academic culture. Among the topics covered include networking, building research profiles, publishing, writing research grants, peer reviewing and managing work load.
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Most universities would provide specific facilities and special access to available technological resources or otherwise to cater to the students' immediate academic needs in an attempt to assist and ease them in their academic pursuit. Apart from the discussion rooms provided for graduate students' use, they would also gain computing support such as easy access to the use of computers at the computer labs either at the faculty or school of graduate studies. Students should be given access to computer software such as NVivo or SPSS that can be very useful for research data analysis procedures. In some cases, graduate students would have specific needs to enable them to carry out their research work. In such instances, request can be made for the faculty/school to purchase the necessary software with the recommendation from the respective supervisor. In addition, it is common that graduate students who gain entry to the graduate programme would have diverse academic backgrounds and work experience. Therefore, some of them may lack knowledge and ability in certain areas such as computing skills. Supervisors can suggest that students participate in computer programmes workshops that will enable them to master the skills required. Besides that they can also learn or have a short tutorial with other graduate students who are more capable in the area that they are lacking. Graduate students should invest their time to master new computer skills that will expedite their academic work. One of the software that they should learn to master is the bibliographic software or End Note that enables them to keep records of their work and save them time in writing/listing the bibliography of their research project.
Other relevant courses or workshops could also be organized to help graduate students manage their learning and become effective researchers. Researcher development programmes and activities would prove helpful. These encompass courses or workshops which would help students in surviving their post graduate studies and avoiding pitfalls. Examples of such courses or workshops which could be provided are as follows:
How to get a postdoctoral position
Academic writing at the post graduate level
Writing literature review at the post graduate level
Finding and using archives in research
Protecting your health while researching and writing
Practical strategies for editing and proofreading
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An introduction to electronic journals
Critical thinking and problem solving in research
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Coping with stress and work overload
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Making the most of your supervisor
Preparing for viva voce
Writing and presenting a conference paper
Writing for publication in research journals
The Graduate School of Universiti Malaysia Terengganu for instance has been regularly conducting day induction workshops called "Cracking the Code" that incorporates the following topics
Beginning the candidature
What is a Masters/PhD
Transition from undergraduate to Masters/PhD
Essential tools - bibliographic software, data management
Expectations of candidate and supervisor
Working with our supervisors/supervisees
Concerns and potential solutions in supervision
Resource issues in undertaking postgraduate studies
Effective habits of successful research students
Both supervisors and students attend these workshops.
Since the nature of postgraduate studies requires progression from time to time involving the incorporation of new technical skills, thinking about concepts and methods critically and analytically, and expecting students to link together a number of different ideas to a wider picture, students are required to do a lot of reading. In order to achieve this, graduate students have to take the initiative to learn how to use library systems effectively to search for discipline specific databases. Supervisors may help by suggesting related databases that they are familiar with. A good way of getting around the library is to have a library tour at the beginning of the programme with the assistance of the librarian. Students can gain familiarity of the facilities available to them and other procedures that could benefit them in the course of their study such as requesting for inter-library loans or journals that are not available in the library or online.
Doing a thesis or research work can be a lonely journey if graduate students do not receive support and help from their peers or colleagues. Therefore, students should be encouraged to meet and engage themselves in academic discussion with their peers at the graduate students' lounge or common room. Allocate time for such activity regularly as the meetings provide opportunities for networking and socializing. In addition, such meetings would provide avenues for exchange of ideas with others who share similar research interests. This will broaden the students' views and perceptions, and generate ideas that will contribute to the progression of their research work. The feedback gained from others can provide further insights and better understanding of issues in a particular research area. In fostering such academic environment, there is a need to be receptive to feedback and to realize the concept of contributing and sharing of ideas that enable students to work as a group and not as competing individuals.
Graduate students need to engage themselves in an academic environment where there is easy access to information. The more students are engaged with the research activities at the university, the better they fare in their research progress. This serves as one of the factors as to why students are allocated space to do their work at their faculties or school of graduate studies. Some graduate students are given an office to share with others or even an office of their own. This depends on the availability of space at the faculty or institute of graduate studies.
One of the ways to increase networking among graduate students with expertise in their research area is through the engagement with academic visitors from other universities especially those from abroad. The respective departments or faculties can arrange a postgraduate session with academic visitors to initiate academic discourse among its participants. The discussion can encompass various research matters, professional advice on certain areas, or exchange of opinions and ideas on different backgrounds and contexts of doing research. Besides academic discussion, the departments or faculties may also organize a seminar where research students need to present research progress reports with the academic visitors as their panel. This may provide useful insights and constructive feedback that may lead to the development of current research trends. By participating in the research discussion, graduate students can gain confidence to collaborate with academic visitors and this platform can be a starting point for further collaboration. In some universities, academic visitors are given an office among the graduate students to enable them to get acquainted and discuss academic matters. Some graduate students would want to show their drafts and seek opinions related to their work. In addition, a series of workshop can also be held with academic visitors to exchange and share information in developing graduate students generic skills. Information and sharing of ideas on how to plan graduate students academic journey especially from experienced supervisors can give positive insights for students to act and plan their own studies. Graduate students who are interested in becoming academics should take the opportunity to seek knowledge on the tips of being an academic from these academic visitors. This is because academic visitors are usually experts in their areas and have extensive experience in the academia.
Graduate students who are doing research are usually assessed through their progress report from their supervisors. One of many ways to help graduate students to progress steadily during their years of study is to get them to participate in departmental or postgraduate seminars. Students should be encouraged to present their study to an academic audience. They can either present their proposal or various aspects of their research in progress. In this way, students will receive continuous feedback that would help them to reflect and move forward in their research work. By sharing their ideas with academics from the department and peers, students will gain more confidence with the research that they are doing.
All graduate students are entitled to attend a conference at least once a year with special allocations from the respective learning institution. However, the procedures for application might differ across universities. Students should plan when to attend such conference and it would be wise to get advice and recommendation from the supervisor. Students should be informed of the financial support provided by the university for those who wish to present papers and participate in such events. Some universities would provide full sponsorship for students to present at international conference overseas if the particular research is extensive and outstanding while some other universities would just allocate some funds for international conference in the country.
There are various kind of support that a university or institute of graduate studies could provide to graduate students to ensure that they have an enriching learning experience while doing their postgraduate studies. This support can be in the form of organizing generic courses that would assist graduate students' academic development or even organizing social events that will help graduate students get acquainted. The kind of support that a department or institute of graduate studies can provide would depend on the existing courses that they have provided to students or it can be based on students' specific request. For instance, some graduate students might have problems in expressing their ideas explicitly in thesis writing which definitely hampers understanding among readers. These students might require writing courses that would actually help them in the process of writing their thesis. Therefore, the department or institute of graduate studies can group these students together and have weekly or monthly workshops for writing. Some universities hold gatherings at the beginning or end of the semester for graduate students to get together. Usually most graduate students are members of the Graduate Students Society and this society usually is in charge of organizing such gathering. It is important for graduate students to establish contacts among themselves as this would provide them with peer support that can be beneficial when they encounter problems or difficulties in the course of their study.
Postgraduate students are often treated as colleagues in a department. Some graduate students are given offices among the academics in the department to foster positive relationship and enhance collaboration between academics and students. Unlike undergraduates, the graduate students are often given more privileges in terms of the use of facilities and also access to the department. In some universities, graduate students are given after office hour's access or even a 24 hour access to the department that would allow them to do their work at any time that is convenient to them. Graduate students who intend to work late would benefit from this situation. Most of the time graduate students would have easy access to unlimited use of internet services and free printing of materials, and the use of photocopy machines. Nevertheless, different universities would have different allocations, rules and regulations that students need to adhere to.
To encourage positive and a vibrant atmosphere, most departments would show their appreciation of graduate students' success through departmental celebration, often to acknowledge students who passed their viva voce and upon completion of a post graduate degree. In some universities, graduate students will receive a recognition letter from the Vice Chancellor in celebration of their success. Quite frequent this was done through official announcements or even small gatherings. Besides that announcements posted through the website or even displayed on bulletin board are made to students whose research studies have been accepted at international or local conferences or even to mark their achievements. This is to encourage and motivate other students to emulate the success and achievements made and to take on the same route or path. On graduation day, it would be endearing to entertain the masters or doctoral graduates by having tea parties in the presence of top scholars and administrators.
Research activities should be ongoing and constantly embarking on new areas or disciplines. The research related activities should continue to develop engaging in areas yet to be explored. One way of upholding this tradition is by becoming a socialized member of the community of scholars in the respective discipline. As such, students should be encouraged to join the activities and make them known in contributing views, ideas, research findings, and personal reflections on the research carried out. Get them to attend seminars, conventions, and conferences so as to get the opportunity to meet the scholars whose work they have read. They need to learn and be exposed to the national association in the respective field and become a student affiliate member to the association.
Students should also be advised to start becoming a professional. For the next three to eight years, they should make the library or the graduate room or even the computer lab part of home. They must prepare their mind and soul for the whole process of graduate learning and plan their future development and career path. Try and motivate them to present a paper at a convention. At these places, they will meet people who will be future colleagues or future employer. In addition, they will have the opportunity to hear the cutting edge of research and application in their respective areas of interest. Encourage students to learn how to prepare an article for publication in research journals. Henceforth, students should proceed to write research articles for publication and gain numerous benefits from the experience.
Support and advice should also be given to students in careers development and employment. Such services and guidance should be provided to students of all disciplines to ensure the best possible support in their future career. These could include career guidance, careers information, job vacancy bulletins and websites, guide to job searching, skills training, careers fairs (virtual or otherwise) and regular updates on employability activities.