Thursday, July 27, 2006

GUEST POST: advice needed please, all you smart people

I'd like to think that one of you clever readers doing or having done postgraduate studies can provide a little advice to a good friend of mine who needs Setting On Teh Right Path:


Dear Fellow Travellers,

I'd love to pick the collective intellect of blogsphere for advice as to tactics for applying for postgrad. A little background then the list of questions.

The area of research is in furniture design & research; it is not course work. The likely institutions at this point are UTS, COFA or an oddly stitched together cross-faculty marriage at USYD. Not particularly concerned as to whether it's Masters or PhD, but given the size of the research project, it's more likely to be PhD. A grad of ANU, I go bearing a Diploma of Visual Art & Grad Dip of Visual Art, which ANU treats as an Honours equivalent.

Now for the questions:

1. Do you approach the institutions through the postgrad co-ordinators only?

2. Do you, in that initial approach, send them material to dazzle & daze them?

3. Or do you simply quietly phone or send an email with a little info & ask them to outline their process of application? (institutional websites are big on graphics & not big on useful info)

4. Do you take another tack & having checked out staff, find someone who looks like they may be interested in your work, & approach them?

5. Or is there something I'm missing?

6. Or should I get an extension on my extension on my extension on my credit card & start slipping big green bills into envelopes under office doors?

Thank you, oh seers - fill my ears with your wisdom & I'll photocopy you some green bills as well.




Kirsty said...

I think it's a good idea to do some research on who you might like to work with, then when you speak with the postgrad coordinator you can mention names.

I came to the institution I'm currently at by going to the Office of Research and Postgraduate Studies and downloading an application form. I imagine that there's a different process for creative higher degrees though, which is probably a good reason to find out what they want first, before you spend a lot of time and effort preparing something that they don't require.

Rest assured, no-one will shoot you for asking questions. The very first step might simply be a case of calling the front desk of the school/department you're interested in attending. There is likely to be a dedicated member of the staff for postgrad administration etc. They are usually lovely, and extremely helpful people, who will give you great advice.

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

I think Befuddled's recent institution preferred to shoot first, field questions later.

lucy tartan said...

What Galaxy said. You need to meet whatever formal requirements the institution has, but aside from that, you should try to find a department that's a good fit for what you want to do and how you want to do it.

Informal approaches - to the postgrad co-ordinator of the dept you want to join, not to some general faculty officer - are never unwelcome especially if you do it in some manner that the person approached can respond to in their own time (ie, don't ring up and expect them to have time to talk to you right away.) If you ask for the outline of how to apply they will probably just send you a form.

You sort of need to look at it as what you and the department can do for each other. Your contribution ideally will be something that fits in with the existing strengths of that department - but at the same time, targeting particular staff isn't necessarily the best plan because those people may already have too many research students or be planning to go on leave or something. For instance, my department has lots of people researching autobiography so they are particularly keen on applicants working in that general area.

I think researching the department is pretty important, much more so than what you actually say in your first email contacts or whatever.

Mark Lawrence said...

Another important thing to consider is not just convincing the department that you're the right candidate for them, but also convincing yourself whether that department/University is the right one for you! Yes, Unis are cash-strapped, but they should be some money for research, or else you're not going to get anywhere.

If possible, talk to other postgrads in the department: if you can find them around in the department/studios, that's a good sign. If they're all working from home, you'll get lonely as hell, and it means a lack of postgrad community/engagement and insufficient office space. What kind of funding will they have for your research? How many conferences will they support you to attend/present at? Will you get any tutoring work for that extra cash?

Otherwise, what Galaxy and Lucy Tartan said. It's also important to have an idea who you can/ want to work with as your supervisor, and whether they're too busy to have time for you: do they have too many PhDs waiting to see them/ are they going overseas on teaching/ research/ jaunts/ how many University committees do they have to sit on?

Or just do a cabinet making aprenticeship, and in four years you'll be making more money than any PhD graduate from your field. And you can still write a book on your interests and get published... hopefully.

elaine said...

I cannot stress how important it is to do your research regarding potential supervisors.

Meet with them and meet with their students. Take student(s) out for coffee and ask them about the level and style of supervision (warning bells should ring if they use terms like 'hands-off') that they recieve, their relationship with the supervisor, ask who they approach when they're stuck or want to discuss ideas, ask about potgrad life in the department.

It doesn't matter how smart or motivated you are, you will become disillusioned and struggle if your supervision is consistently crap.

Anonymous said...

My tip - apply early, apply often (to a range of institutions). You also have to research the universities scholarships and graduate intake systems thoroughly.

Find a good supervisor and a good community - you'll need them. Pick one that you feel you can work with rather than one whose work blows your mind, and check out their strike rate with PhDs. Request interviews with the Department head and potential supervisors. Ask how often they'll be on leave or overseas in the next four years.

Remember that very few postgrad co-ordinators, departmental heads or supervisors woo students, so if you find one who does, put it down as a big plus, but make sure they're not wooing you because they have just kicked out a tranche of failed, disillusioned candidates. And remember also, they might woo you but you may not get through the university's arcane admissions processes. I had the sad experience of having to say goodbye to a most enthusiastic head, who would have been a great supervisor, because his uni wouldn't give me a scholarship. I put in five applications. I got accepted without scholarship by three, but one of the ones who said yes was a prestigious institution. It still is.

And do check out resources - good facilities mean you don't have to spend your whole time fighting to cling to a cubicle or trying to fund paper supplies.

Finally, don't rely on your prospective supervisors for paperwork or application assistance. You will need to get some things from them. If they don't get back to you quickly (or apologise for holding you up) they aren't going to be good for the hundreds of forms they need to sign during your candidature. Efficiency matters too! You must do it yourself, and if YOU do it you know it's done properly. This may mean you spend the entire month of October chasing up pieces of paper, references, certified academic records and whatever.

By the way, Tasmania has a truly inspiring wood furniture department.

Anonymous said...

Actually its befuddled who has resorted to using Anon to get the comment to load. Firstly thanks thanks thanks for all the input. Huge amount of pertinent info & a huge task in front of me. Just a point about Tas - its been under the threat of closure for some years now. For all of the usually suspect reasons as to university budgets etc etc. Despite having a fabulous process of support for students & their work etc etc. Indeed design has a happy existence as a theoretical endeavour within most unis - less messy insurance, less plant & equipment costs, less teaching staff - none of that practical applied nonsense thank you.
But thanks again to all - much appreciated.

cristy said...

Late comment: I would agree with the advice about finding a good supervisor as a priority. Not only will they make a huge difference to your research experience, but if they are really keen on having you as a student, then they will do the agitation behind the scenes that may result in you getting a scholarship.

My supervisor did this and my faculty had gone to the effort of finding me a back-up scholarship just in case I didn't get a APA because she was so keen to have me. Her support also helped when I wanted to get a new computer and in lots of other ways.

Finally, I think that a faculty will treat your application differently once they can associate you with a colleague that they already know and trust - it is like you have already been vetted for them. This will just help all the paperwork and procedural stuff move along a lot faster for you.