Postgraduate Study in Australia

Surviving and Succeeding

by Christopher McMaster (Volume editor) Caterina Murphy (Volume editor) Benjamin Whitburn (Volume editor) Inger Mewburn (Volume editor)
©2017 Textbook XVI, 250 Pages


Each contributor to this book was given the remit: "If you could go back in time to talk with yourself when you began your studies, what advice would you give?" Hindsight is such a bonus, especially, when vying for your doctorate or postgraduate degree. Postgraduate Study in Australia: Surviving and Succeeding addresses this with advice from postgraduate students and recent graduates that will assure that you are not alone in your endeavors.
This project follows similar editions that focus on Aotearoa/New Zealand, South Africa,
the United States, and the United Kingdom, and is currently being replicated in Scandinavia. This down-to-earth anthology shares personal stories from postgraduate students and recent graduates, employing a practical approach and focusing on the context of postgraduate studies in Australia. This first-person approach to research about postgraduate study helps curate the current understanding, with critical reflections adding to our collective knowledge. Both prospective and current postgraduate students will find this collection insightful.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Foreword: Making Sense of Experience (Pat Thomson)
  • References
  • Preface and Acknowledgments
  • Part One: Postgrads at Work
  • Chapter One: Red Pen Blues: Dealing with Rejection and Critical Feedback (Clare Rhoden)
  • Introduction
  • Responding to a Call for Papers (CFP)
  • Why submit papers?
  • How can you submit your work?
  • Where would you submit your work?
  • What Kind of Feedback can you Expect?
  • Rejections, and how to make the most of them
  • When the message hurts
  • A recipe for responding
  • Maybes
  • Acceptances
  • The Other Side
  • Seven Steps to Improve your Chances
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter Two: An Academic Apprenticeship: Publishing during Doctoral Candidature (Courtenay Atwell / Jenny Buchan)
  • Introduction
  • Publishing during Candidature
  • Benefits to Candidature
  • Build Your Brand
  • Post Candidature Benefits of Publishing
  • How to Start Writing
  • Difficulties
  • What you can Expect from your Supervisor
  • An Unsupportive Supervisor
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter Three: A Word to the Wise about Creating a Thesis Including Publications (Lara Corr)
  • Introduction
  • Different types of theses that include Publications
  • Thesis by publication
  • Thesis with publication(s)
  • Traditional thesis
  • First Year: The World is your Oyster!
  • Support in writing your article(s)
  • How much of the article needs to be my work?
  • How many articles do I need?
  • How many publications can I produce?
  • Data, data, data
  • Second Year: No Time to Waste!
  • PhD timelines with publication in mind
  • Where should I publish my research?
  • ‘Bonus’ time!?
  • Third and Final Years: The Highs and Lows of Publishing
  • Revision, rejection and resubmission
  • Fitting your data into the word limit
  • ‘Frozen in time’: You change but your papers stay the same
  • Bringing it all together: Creating a cohesive story
  • Worst case scenarios: Rewriting articles into chapters
  • Submitting a Thesis with Publications: Gaining an Edge Worth Fighting For
  • Reference
  • Chapter Four: Three-minute Thesis Competition: Ready, Set, Go! (Haiyan Liang)
  • Introduction
  • Structure
  • Judging criteria
  • Background
  • The research topic
  • The research design
  • Methods and results
  • Verbal Language and Body Language
  • An eye-catching title
  • Jargon-free verbal language
  • Importance of repetition
  • Involving your audience
  • Maintaining eye contact
  • Hand movements
  • Powerpoint Slide
  • Concluding Remarks
  • Recommended List of Digital Recordings
  • Chapter Five: You Do Not Have to Be the Next Great Australian Writer: Battling the Creative Thesis (Alexia Champion)
  • What is the Creative Thesis? What does that Even Mean?
  • Freedom isn’t Freeing
  • Pressure from all Sides
  • Everything is Rubbish and that’s Okay
  • References
  • Chapter Six: Teaching as a Strategic Choice (Federico Davila / Walter Reinhardt)
  • Introduction
  • The Scope of Teaching
  • The Benefits of Teaching during your Postgraduate Study
  • The Costs of Teaching, or, Know your ‘Time Vortex’
  • The Danger Zone
  • The Strategic Choice
  • References
  • Chapter Seven: Playing, Moving and Shifting: Finding Your Academic Voice (Sharon Mcdonough)
  • Introduction
  • Move 1: Become Open to Change
  • Move 2: Examine the Language and Writing in your Field
  • Move 3: Take a Journey through Some of the ‘Ologies’
  • Move 4: Start to see yourself as a Writer
  • Move 5: Make Writing a Habituated Practice
  • Move 6: Write yourself into Knowing and Being
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Part Two: Learning Important Lessons
  • Chapter Eight: From Wagyu Steak to 2-Minute Noodles: Surviving the Financial Downturn of a PhD (Peiyi Wang)
  • Introduction
  • Part One: The Sinking Begins
  • Keep your eyes on the ball
  • Look out for lifeboats
  • Part Two: Converting Research Skills to Survival Skills
  • Define the problem
  • Identify the significance
  • State the contributions
  • Meet ethical standards
  • Acknowledge the limitations
  • Live to Tell the Tale
  • Chapter Nine: Who Am I?: Surviving the Battle of the Roles (Bessie Stone)
  • Introduction
  • Teacher Scrambled-brain
  • Someone to ‘Role’ With
  • Something Needed to Give
  • Academic Seclusion and Guilt
  • Goodbye Guilt
  • What will Work for You?
  • Final Reflections
  • Conclusion
  • Reference
  • Chapter Ten: Parenting Through a PhD (Quinn Eades)
  • Introduction
  • Imposter!
  • Subject Librarians
  • Accessing a Range of Resource Pools
  • Building Networks
  • The Shut up and Write Technique
  • Presenting your Ideas in a Public Forum
  • When Life gets in the Way
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter Eleven: How to Become a Researcher: Developmental Opportunities on Campus and Beyond (Lilia Mantai)
  • Introduction
  • Developing as a Researcher in the PhD
  • The Benefits of Engaging in Developmental Activities during the PhD
  • The Value of Supportive and Social Connections
  • References
  • Chapter Twelve: Surviving Your Supervisors: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Thesis (Eliza Howard)
  • Introduction
  • Lesson One: Every Little Thing is Going to be Alright ...
  • Lesson Two: Choose your Supervisors Wisely
  • Lesson Three: Listen to your Supervisor(s), then your Peers
  • Lesson Four: Manage Up
  • Lesson Learned: Surviving your Supervisors
  • References
  • Chapter Thirteen: Stereotypes and Self-Belief: The Perpetual Student and the ‘False Finish’ Dilemma (Benjamin Hayward)
  • Introducing the Stereotypical, Perpetual Student
  • Cause: Understanding the False Finish, and Why it might Occur
  • Effect: Understand and Anticipate the False Finish
  • Self-belief and Weathering the Storm
  • Conclusion: Reflections from a Post-PhD Perspective
  • References
  • Chapter Fourteen: Where Did It All Go Wrong?: Ethical Dilemmas of a Murdered Research Participant (Anne Ferguson)
  • Introduction
  • In the Field
  • Which way should I Go?
  • Inside Prison Walls
  • Interviewer to Interviewee
  • Where to now?
  • Where does that Leave me?
  • Do I have Any Advice?
  • References
  • Part Three: Grounded in Oz: Honouring Indigeneity
  • Chapter Fifteen: Our Mob are Researchers Too!: The Story of an Aboriginal Researcher Seeking New Paradigms (Marnee Shay)
  • Introduction
  • Personal storying
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People and Higher Education Access
  • From the ‘Researched’ to the ‘Researcher’
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter Sixteen: Die, Brain Demons, Die!: The Internal Monologue of an Aboriginal Researcher (Melitta Hogarth)
  • Introduction
  • Hindsight is a Beautiful Thing
  • Stage 1: Pre-enrolment of the Masters
  • Decisions, Decisions, Decisions
  • Stage 2: Six months since enrolment
  • The Methodology of Research
  • Stage 3: The day of confirmation
  • The Light at the End of the Tunnel
  • Stage 4: Post ethical clearance
  • Hook, Line and Sinker
  • Stage 5: Final seminar and examination
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter Seventeen: Learning to Become a Storyteller: Breaking the Cycle of Academic Colonialism (Rebecca H. Bilous)
  • Introduction
  • Building Reciprocal Relationships
  • The Importance of Time in Building Relationships
  • Becoming Part of a Community of Researchers
  • Place Matters and has an Active Role to Play
  • Learning to Hear Stories
  • Learning to Tell Stories: Becoming a Storyteller
  • Final Words
  • References
  • Part Four: Supporting Student Needs and Student Aspirations
  • Chapter Eighteen: Validating your Access Card: How to Strive Beyond Equality to Equity (or Something Close Enough) (Gabrielle Hodge)
  • Equality or Equity?
  • Equality is Conditional, Equity is Not
  • Ask your University
  • Talk to your Support Personnel
  • Pretend you are Someone else and Decide for Yourself
  • Find Money and Spend It
  • Workers United will never be Defeated
  • Play the Email Game
  • Prepare for Other People to Question your Identity
  • Advocate from the Bottom-up and the Top-down
  • Get Cracking
  • Chapter Nineteen: Treading the Tricky Terrain of Disclosure (Georgia Geller)
  • Introduction
  • Disclosure
  • Risks of Disclosure
  • The Importance of Documentation
  • Stigma
  • Supportive Supervision
  • Strategies for Successful Completion: Exploring the Possibilities
  • References
  • Chapter Twenty: What Limits Should Not Define: Achieving in Postgraduate Study with a Disability or Impairment (Brian R. Basham)
  • Introduction
  • Defining a Word
  • Setting the Scene
  • My Hurdles
  • Hurdle 1: Mental stresses and anxiety overload
  • Hurdle 2: Going to class (or not)
  • Hurdle 3: Handling feedback
  • Coping Strategies
  • Explain but don’t excuse
  • Seeking assistance: Internally
  • Seeking assistance: Externally
  • Create a sacred space
  • Get distracted every now and then
  • Supervisory relationship
  • Critical friend
  • Final Thoughts
  • References
  • Chapter Twenty-one: An Entrepreneurial Roadmap to Managing Postgraduate Stress (Bronwyn Elizabeth Eager)
  • Out of the Frying Pan and into the ...
  • Keep an Eye on your 'Why'
  • Diversifying Risk
  • Stakeholder Management
  • Launch in Beta Mode
  • Developing your Network
  • Crafting ‘Brand you’
  • Return on Investment
  • Concluding Thoughts
  • Note
  • Chapter Twenty-two: It’s Your Body: Maintaining Chronic Wellness During a Doctorate (Katie Buckley)
  • Introduction
  • Your Musculoskeletal Health
  • Managing your musculoskeletal health
  • Your Work Environment
  • Your Mind
  • Find your Flow
  • Move your Body
  • References
  • Part Five: Backpacks and Books
  • Chapter Twenty-three: Where’s My Comfort Zone?: Reflections of Two Aussie Researchers Abroad (Kate Neely / Ben Whitburn)
  • Introduction
  • Travelogue
  • Why Go? and Why There?
  • Who are you Responsible to?
  • Is it Ethical?
  • Is it Ok to Fly by the Seat of your Pants?
  • Cultural Understanding (and Being Restrained by Language)
  • Doing Research in the Abyss
  • References
  • Chapter Twenty-four: Fieldwork in Far-flung Places (Nicole Dicker)
  • A Chapter for the Intrepid PhD Student
  • A Lonely Planet Guide of Sorts
  • The Author
  • Getting Started on your Fieldwork Journey
  • Where to Go
  • When to Go
  • Budget Travel
  • Culture
  • Language
  • Beaches
  • Food and Drink
  • Health and Safety
  • Don’t Leave Home without …
  • Chapter Twenty-five: Dancing the Postgrad Tango: Flourishing in the Online University Environment (Carolyn Leslie)
  • Introduction
  • Warming up: Stretching and Preparing to Dance
  • Stage I: Practice your Basic Dance Steps
  • Stage 2: Refining your Technique
  • Stage 3: Developing your Musicality
  • Conclusion: Stage 4: Dancing Intimately with your Partner
  • Reference
  • Chapter Twenty-six: It Should Not Be a Lonely Journey: Being an International Student in Australia (Khoi Ngoc Mai)
  • Introduction
  • Improving English
  • Adjusting to Life in Australia
  • Avoiding Isolation and making Friends
  • Going to Conferences and Networking
  • Working in Australia
  • Maintaining Relationships with Friends and Family Back Home
  • Conclusion
  • Reference
  • About the Contributors

| xi →


Making Sense of Experience


The Hungarian social scientist Michael Polanyi wrote a great deal that was relevant to the ways in which learning occurs. Polanyi argued that all knowledge production was an act of creation which was profoundly about the person, their commitments and passions. He proposed that much of what is often understood as systematic, ‘objective’ and the product of logical reasoning, was actually enmeshed in informed hunches, dreams and intuitions based in ‘tacit’ knowledge (Polanyi, 1958/1998, 1966). His argument could certainly apply to the ways in which doctoral research knowledge is produced. However, it also applies to the process of doing the PhD itself. When undertaking a PhD, candidates not only learn the ‘stuff’ of their dissertation, they also learn about the actual process of doing the doctorate.

The experience of doing a doctorate can remain as tacit knowledge, a profound experience which, although unexamined, is nevertheless a basis for future and further action. Think for instance of the eponymous supervisor who appears to have little basis for their supervision practice other than they ‘know’ that ‘this works’—they are basing their actions in ‘tacit knowledge’ of experience, their own, and subsequent experiences with doctoral candidates. But tacit knowledge can also become more explicit.

In my field - educational research—we value experience as a basis for action, but argue that learning from experience is considerably enhanced if learners systematically reflect on their experiences in order to develop ‘meta-learning’ principles—that is if they can distill their experiences into more abstracted forms and language that allows their learning to become ‘visible’. Critical reflection also ← xi | xii → allows taken-for-granted assumptions to be interrogated. Once reflections are made into talk and text they become meta-learnings able to be communicated to others. They can also be brought into conversation with similar ‘processed’ experiences and with relevant research.

Postgraduate Study in Australia: Surviving and Succeeding is an anthology of the personal stories of postgraduate students and recent graduates who have reflected on their experiences, and developed some principles, conclusions and narratives from them. Their narratives serve a dual purpose. Firstly, they continue the process of making sense of experience for each writer, because every time we reflect critically and write about our own experiences they make more sense to us. But secondly, the narratives provide a resource that other postgraduate students and supervisors can use to inform their own critical reflections and arising actions.

Taken together, these narratives add to the available understandings of the postgraduate experience. While there is a steadily growing corpus of published research about the doctorate, less of this is in the form of first-person accounts. There is some of course, but much more exists as blogs and storified twitter chats. This curated volume adds a further set of ‘processed’ first person accounts to our collective knowledge.

But this is primarily a book of resources gifted to the reader to use when and as they are apt. Of course, not all of the narratives on offer will be of immediate use. There is no one best way to do a postgraduate degree and there are no right answers. These are but one set of postgraduate students. The stories don’t say everything. Yet there is remarkable value in hearing directly from those who are involved, now, in postgraduate study or who have recently completed their doctorates. Having a range of others’ analysed experiences on which to draw allows each reader to build up their own repertoire of studying, researching and writing strategies. Even if some narratives are not apparently helpful straight away, they may well be at some future date.

One of the most obvious ways in which this book will be useful is that it addresses the sense of isolation that appears to be part and parcel of the PhD. Doctorates in most disciplines are somewhat lonely. Even those who work in laboratory teams are, I suspect, ultimately still subject to the kind of all-down-to-me sense that comes from engaging in a long-term project which will be externally examined, and upon which considerable hopes are pinned. Even though success in the doctorate doesn’t guarantee employment, fame and fortune, there is a sense of personal achievement and identity tied up in completing a sustained piece of research, a study which makes ‘your contribution’.

This does not mean that completion is an individual affair. An ecology of supervision, disciplinary organisation and university support make it possible for all of us to achieve that sense of satisfaction that comes with writing the words Dr in front of your name. These days, that ecology now includes online support, ← xii | xiii → different kinds of face-to-face social groups and advice books. This DIY ‘outstitutional’ provision is very important for increasing numbers of doctoral researchers; it can very usefully supplement and complement what is on offer within institutional contexts. Postgraduate students have probably always helped each other but now have an additional resource at their disposal—“you have this problem? Oh I was just reading the other day …”, reaching for one of the stories in this book.

Some doctoral readers will become supervisors either in higher education or as industry partners. This little book may well come in handy then too, as a way of expanding and adding to the tacit and explicit knowledges of the supervisor. And for those of us who completed our doctorates some time ago, this collection will serve to update us, and remind us that the world is changing, and the doctorate is not as it once was.

As much as an anthology, this book can also be thought of as an archive, compiled at a particular time and place. As such, it provides a snapshot of the doctorate and doctoral experience(s) which will be of wider and potentially more long-term interest. As someone who researches doctoral and research education, I was certainly itching to start to generate some themes across the contributions. Indeed, this might be something I still do at some idle moment!

I commend and recommend the collection to you and hope you enjoy dipping in and out of it as much as I did.

Pat Thomson, Professor of Education, School of Education, the University of Nottingham

a.k.a Patter patthomson.net; @ThomsonPat


Polanyi, M. (1958/1998). Personal knowledge. Towards a post critical philosophy. London: Routledge.

Polanyi, M. (1966). The tacit dimension. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

| xv →

Preface AND Acknowledgments

The Survive and Succeed series of postgraduate books began in Aotearoa New Zealand as a desire to offer meaningful advice to other students, not from established scholars, but from those who were still postgraduates or those who had recently graduated. The question posed to chapter contributors was, “If you could go back in time to when you started your studies, what advice would you give your younger self?” From this, Postgraduate Study in Aoteaoroa New Zealand: Surviving and Succeeding was created (McMaster & Murphy, 2014).

After that initial edition we looked overseas. Australia was our first and natural choice for a second book in the series. Teaming up with Ben Whitburn, a recent Doctoral graduate and now a lecturer of Inclusive Education at Deakin University, and Inger Mewburn (a.k.a. The Thesis Whisperer) of the Australian National University at Canberra, we put out a call for abstracts to Australian postgraduates and recent graduates. The response to that call was staggering. Not only were we inundated with abstracts for potential chapters, we also received requests from postgraduate students in other countries: South Africa, the United Kingdom, the United States of America and Scandinavia. All those requests asked the same thing: can we have a Survive and Succeed edition too? Our answer was, of course, yes, and most of those books are already published.

This Australian edition is an outstanding volume. Postgraduate Study in Australia: Surviving and Succeeding is about empowerment. It is about postgraduates embracing their own power, uniting in a joint project to support each other. Postgraduate study in itself requires the will to survive and succeed, to collaborate and share our experiences to enable and empower each other. ← xv | xvi →

The book is divided into five parts. Each part addresses an important aspect of postgraduate study and life—aspects and issues identified by Australian postgraduate students. As Pat Thomson points out in her foreword to this book, it can be read cover to cover or used like a guide book to another city or country—picking and choosing those parts especially pertinent to you.

Parts 1 and 2 comprise chapters relating to the academic ‘apprenticeship’: finding your voice, dealing with and utilising feedback, writing and publishing and generally making the most of the opportunities postgraduate study has to offer. Part 2 looks at life as an academic during the process of study and considers not only how time is spent to benefit future endeavours, but also developing your sense of self as an academic and scholar.

Part 3 concerns studying within Aboriginal and Torres Straights communities, and includes chapters by Aboriginal and Torres Straights contributors, adding that vital voice to any discussion of postgraduate study in Australia.

Student diversity and student need are explored in Part 4. Postgraduate study is becoming increasingly accessible to more and more students, and this part of Survive and Succeed speaks to all students for whom accessibility is a factor in their success.

The final part of this book, Part 5, considers distance and culture in Australian postgraduate study. Topics include researching abroad, studying online as well as guidance to the international student in navigating Australian culture.

Note: while the editors appreciate and accept the significant contribution of each chapter to the book as a whole, they do not necessarily endorse all viewpoints expressed within them.

We wish to pay tribute to:

Christopher McMaster and Caterina Murphy

| 1 →


XVI, 250
ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2017 (May)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2017. XVI, 250 pp.

Biographical notes

Christopher McMaster (Volume editor) Caterina Murphy (Volume editor) Benjamin Whitburn (Volume editor) Inger Mewburn (Volume editor)

Christopher McMaster has been lead editor on all editions of the Survive and Succeed series. He completed a PhD in education based on a critical ethnography of developing inclusive culture in an Aotearoa, New Zealand high school. Current projects involve a text on behavior analysis from a disability studies perspective. Christopher has most recently been Assistant Professor of Education, Special Education at Augsburg College in Minneapolis. He has since returned to his adopted home of New Zealand where he teaches in the local community. Caterina Murphy freelances her academic leadership and research services through AcademicExpressNZ to tertiary institutions, individuals, schools and businesses and edits a range of much-needed textbooks for the sector. She is also Head of Enhanced Learning at Edgecumbe College. Ben Whitburn did his PhD from 2011 to 2014 somewhere between Melbourne and Madrid. Ben’s thesis by publication works the intersection of disability studies and inclusive education research, by drawing on insider accounts of experience, poststructural analytics and grounded theory. Ben is an enthusiastic traveler, teacher and writer. Inger Mewburn has specialized in research education since 2005. Aside from editing and contributing to the Thesis Whisperer blog, she writes scholarly papers, books and book chapters about research students and their experiences.


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