Workshop: GSAS Getting started on your PhD

This was a series of four workshops aimed at FIT Graduate Research students at the beginning of their candidature. The workshop was conducted by Ms Julie Holden and covered a number of topics and concepts including FIT5144 blogs and language and communication when writing literature reviews and milestone reports.

Date: Thursday April 28, May 5, 12 & 19
Time: 12:00pm – 1:00pm
Venue: InfoTech-CaSIT H6.90 Meeting Room Caulfield, Caulfield

Session 1: Writing reflective blogs (April 28)

From the session, I was able to deduce on the importance of writing (reflective writing in particular) during the journey as a PhD researcher , in order to effectively communicate my research to the various audience. The session was highly interactive and involved group discussion and quiz activities to keep us engaged throughout the hour.

The major takeaway from that discussion was that that blogs may not resemble a polished paper, but it is nonetheless a structured attempt of information sharing with the audience. It contains references that may link to other materials relevant to the central discussion. Speaking in the context of the mandatory FIT5144 course which we are enrolled in this semester, the blog for each seminar/ workshop we attend should incorporate:

  1. a reflection on the key learning (with reference to specific learning outcomes of FIT5144)
  2. critique of the strengths and weaknesses of the activity
  3. reflection on its relevance and usefulness for you, and
  4. clarity (language and structure)

This workshop also introduced us to the importance of maintaining a regular blog and how reflective writing also becomes a central platform to establish systematic connections and relationships, explore the relationship between practice and theory, share understanding and obtain feedback from others (supervisors and other intended audiences). These aspects are central to our professional development as life-long researchers.

Session 2:  Literature Reviews (May 5)

This session was extremely enlightening as it discussed the efficient reading, recording and writing strategies during the literature review process. The first quarter of the session was dedicated to establishing a good understanding of what a literature review actually is? The following were the key ideas deduced from the discussion:

  1. A literature review should be relevant to the research.
  2. It critically evaluates the known research.
  3. It establishes why new research is needed.
  4. It keeps changing (as new  work emerges or becomes known in the field and to the researcher).

The session also highlighted the efficient reading strategies which included:

  • Skim (can be done on-screen).
  • Scan (can be done on-screen)
  • Close (usually done with printed articles)

This approach usually involves reviewing a literature in the following order:

  • Title
  • Abstract
  • Conclusion
  • Introduction
  • Body

Additionally, some people employ the following quick test to also review the articles:

C – Credibility (rank, timeliness)

R – Relevance

A – Audience

P – Purpose

For recording Literature reviews, an annotated bibliography can be kept to :

A -Discuss what they did? Methodology? (objective)

B – Annotation – Commentary on how it connects to your research? (subjective)

EndNote can be used a an software tool to record comments & citations. Many early researchers also use MS Excel tabular format to keep annotated notes.

For Grammar:

  • Known – use past or past perfect (“Robert et. al reported that ...”)
  • Unknown – use present tense (“This finding suggests ...”)

It is also advisable to keep a glossary of terms.

A major take-away from the session was that a researcher should also be mindful to employ “active reading” strategy during the literature review process which includes having questions written down that require answers before proceeding with any literature survey. This will make it easier to focus only the relevant literature and not caught up with the massive volume of publications in the libraries and on the internet.

I thoroughly appreciated this session as during my candidature, i would have to to undertake literature review for my confirmation report, my mid-candidature review, my pre-submission, and also when writing conference papers, journal articles and book chapters.

Session 3 & 4:  Using Your Network & Genres of Communication in a PhD (May 19)

The final session in this series focussed on the various areas of support available for a PhD student how these can be utilised faculty. Very briefly, these include MGE (Monash Graduate Education),Monash Library, Faculty, GSAS, Monash PostGrad Association, Health & Well Being, Supervisory Team and the Research Groups.

One of the most important in a PhD students research network is the supervisory team. Therefore, it is very important that some of the following exceptions are clarified in the early stages of the candidature:

  • Are the supervisors just a “guide on the side”?
  • In a supervisory team – the division of responsibility.
    • Meeting schedules to be regular or when required by the students?
    • Presentation of work in hardcopy/soft-copy and the frequency?
    • Feedback process and method
    • quality and quantity of shared work – reading time?
  • procedure around talking to other academics/experts about the project?

Clear definition of the above ensure a healthy working relationship, clear responsibility and expectation from each member during the PhD journey.

A researcher should also identify the communication genres in the early stages of research. For a typical researcher in my discipline (Information Technology), this may include Journal Articles, Conference Proceedings (with Oral Presentation), Posters, Book Chapters, Industry presentations/reports and technical reports.

In addition to these, the researcher should also submit milestone reports and a thesis. In a typical milestone report (confirmation report), the following items should be documented: Introduction, Literature Review, Method, Research Question, Research Design and Abstract.

The Faculty and MGE also assist the researchers with Travel, Fieldwork and data collection, Specialised training and Specialised equipment to support research being conducted as part of your candidature from the Faculty Central Funding Scheme (CFS) and also The FIT PhD Supplementary Funding Scheme (SFS) provides discretionary funding once the University Post Graduate Travel Fund and FIT funds are expended of between $1,000 and $5,000.

I extremely appreciated this 4 week “Getting started with your PhD” series for graduate students as it informs the  new generation of researchers of the many important facilities, opportunities and expectations in place when they join a new institution.