To preface this blog post, we wrote a series of posts a while back now covering the first considerations for studying ecology: whether you need a degree to work with wildlife as well as how to know if you’re ready to study. Today’s post will focus more on some of the ducks you need to line up when starting out in your post-graduate journey, that is signing up for an Honours, Masters or PhD.
Deciding whether or not you’re ready to pursue a postgraduate degree can be a scary consideration – and after that, choosing the focus of your research project can be even more challenging!
From my own experience, I find that when it comes to big decisions like these, the complexity and hugeness of them can be disconcerting at the very least, the idea of embarking on such a mammoth commitment can be enough to put you off completely from the outset, before you’ve even tried it.
When I find myself making decisions out of fear, or to shy away from what I truly want, I have to remind myself that sometimes, if there’s no pressure, there’s no diamonds.
You can get so much reward from taking the post-graduate path, and I don’t just mean the degree itself: the networks, the friendships, the skills and research experience, the opportunity to dedicate a lengthy period of time to immerse yourself in discovery and science on a topic you’re passionate about! After all –
Today we aim to simplify and reduce the stress around starting your post-graduate research as best we can by covering five of the main considerations beforehand:
- Identifying your why
- Choosing your focus
- Choosing a supervisor (and university!)
- Lifestyle considerations
- Technical/logistical considerations
IDENTIFYING YOUR WHY
One of the most important things to do before starting anything in life, especially big commitments like postgraduate study is to know your why. I find one of the best ways to do this is to set goals around what you want to gain from an experience in order to determine whether this is something you are really passionate about achieving.
Why are you signing up for the course? What do you want out it? Is it a requirement or strong recommendation of your dream job? Do you have funding? Will it give you some stability and be a good lifestyle fit? Are you passionate about research or interested in a career path in academia? Or, is it simply a good way to build your skills and stay in the field or fill time until you receive a job?
Whatever your reason, it should be important to you!
CHOOSING YOUR FOCUS
This is definitely a case of try before you buy. Although we all build a somewhat love-hate relationship with our theses, especially as we go through ups and downs, and approach the finish line, but it will be so much easier if you love your subject.
One of the best ways to gain experience before committing is through volunteering – shop around until you find something that makes your heart sing, that you’re literally so excited about, and go from there.
CHOOSING YOUR SUPERVISOR
When looking for a supervisor, consider the following:
- Do you align with their research interests?
- What programs are they involved with?
- What is their work ethic and communication style? Are these compatible with yours?
You can start by making a list of academics whose research you are interested in. If you don’t want to work with anyone you already know, read papers you’re interested in and contact the authors, search the staff profiles in the environmental schools of universities you’d consider, and above all be brave and reach out!
Take the time to meet your supervisors before you enroll and speak about what you both want out of the project. If you’re committing to a longer-term study, for example, a PhD, I would 100 % recommend organizing a time to get out in the field with them or their other students as a volunteer to give you a better understanding of how they work and whether or not you will be compatible.
Before you commit to studying, think about your other commitments in life and how they will fit in around it. Do you have existing work, mortgages, children, family, pets – whatever priorities you have in your life, it is important to acknowledge them and the time and energy they require from you BEFORE you start studying.
It is also important to remember that now you can study full-time, part-time, online – educational institutions are making it easier and easier to study so there’s never been a better time to pursue your dream career in wildlife conservation!
It’s boring for sure but definitely important to mention the logistical requirements of starting your postgraduate journey. The main considerations are:
- Pre-requisites for the course (your grades, enrolment deadlines, etc.)
- Endorsement from your supervisor (and a good working relationship)
- A research focus that floats your boat and fascinates you, including –
- A solid foundation of testable research questions
- A sound understanding of your methodology
- A good idea of how your data analysis will answer your research questions
- Ethics approvals you will require
- Other approvals and trainings you need to do
- Scholarships and funding applications including government support for students
- Partnership agreements and contracts
- Permission for land access or equipment use
The best way to get on top of the technical stuff is to contact your supervisor and the course coordinator (for the educational stuff), as well as any student services bodies (for the lifestyle stuff).
Lengthy application processes such as scholarships, permissions, ethics approvals and partnership contracts can take much longer than you may expect so make sure you give yourself contingency time to line up your ducks. This will save you time, stress and even money down the track so it’s definitely worth tackling those nitty gritty details early on.
And if you find this blog post a little scary or overwhelming – try not to be put off or use it as an excuse as to why you don’t feel ready. Know that you don’t need to know all the answers before you apply – rather you’ll be miles ahead if you just consider some of these ideas or even take a few on…
All the best!
KEEP IN TOUCH
What do you think? why not let us know or follow along for the adventure!
We’d love to hear from you! ✨