Starting Honours

I recently graduated from my undergraduate degree (a Bachelor of Information Technology) at the Queensland University of Technology. It was an exciting, frenetic two and a half years. But my academic career is not yet over – I’m starting my honours. I’ve had some good advice that a good way to develop yourself during higher degree research (HDR) is by blogging. More or less specifically this was about reporting on your research, but I think it would be good to visit how I would have started my honors (and approached my undergraduate degree) differently. This is advice or realizations I didn’t have until I’d started so I though the were a few things worth sharing. The great thing is that I don’t necessarily think these suggestions are just as applicable to undergraduates.

1. Make Academic Contacts Quickly
To be fair, this isn’t something I had a problem with – it’s more or less an identification of a theme. I was only able to get the project I have through contacts. Know what you like to study and really get to know the academic who specialize in this at your tertiary education institution. Ask questions and be interested – even for undergrads, there are so many opportunities that come out of connections with your academic staff.

2. Use mind maps/Express what you’ve learnt
This is one thing I wish I had of tried earlier. I am in the process of understanding my topic (which is fairly complex and more than sufficiently nuanced). Nothing makes sense until you find a way to express what your researching and reading. Mind maps worked well for me (thanks to my primary supervisor for the idea). If your university or library offers courses on this topic, attend it.

3. Print Stuff
This is horrible for an IT student to say, but sometimes reading on paper is just so much easier than reading off a screen (as ironic as that is while you read this on a computer or mobile device no less). While printing prices are truly astronomical at universities, ask your project supervisor or faculty librarian if there is something else you can do about printing. Academics and librarians understand that you’ll want to print research and from my experience, they all go out of their way to help.

4. Use EndNote (or similar)
I can’t believe I went through undergrad without using this once. While I’m not using it extensively yet, I will be. EndNote is such a powerful tool to keep a track of all your references and documents relevant to your research. When your dealing with HDR, this is a godsend. Take a course in it if your Library offers one, or ask your faculty’s librarian for help. Just use it and be amazed.

5. Ask Questions
If there is something which you can’t answer, ask your supervisor/s. They are there to guide and help, especially for honors and masters students where this will likely be your first piece of original HDR. Just know what you need to know and ask.

Hopefully these five tips are useful for undergraduates and HDR students alike. What are your recommendations and tips for students undertaking honors, masters or PhD research?

Reading

I have a lot of reading this semester for university. Most are white papers, so are very extensive.

I don’t mind reading when the content is fresh and interesting. But when the reading is about stuff I have learnt in a lecture, and read in a different paper last week, I’m not interested.

People I know don’t like reading stuff like this over and over. We do get it the first time. We want to actually try this stuff practically. How can I learn to do a Root Cause Analysis without trying to do one myself? Please change this. As the pie menu in The Sims 3 says “Stop Doing That”.