Aletha: 5 tips for tackling postgrad research

Since graduating from USQ with a Bachelor of Nursing in 2003, Aletha has worked tirelessly to improve the quality of clinical health and training within her community. She was USQ's 2014 Professional Alumnus of the Year and is currently completing her Doctor of Philosophy.

Conducting research for a postgraduate assignment or thesis can be a daunting process, especially for those who have not done it formally before or have taken a break from study.

However, research forms the foundation of evidence-based practice, particularly in areas such as health care. So, regardless of whether you are doing formal studies in research or not, research will always be a part of your professional life.

And believe it or not, we all know how to research!

Say you are going to buy a product like a new car. Before you part with your hard-earned money, you will conduct research to find out what features you would like, and you will compare brands, costs and feedback on each of the models to ensure you make an informed decision. If you have ever done this before purchasing a product, you know how to research.

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Researching at a postgraduate level is not too different from the research you do at an undergrad level or the research you do before making a decision in your everyday life. Very simply, you first find the question you want to answer, look at what research and literature already exists, then design a method on how you will find out the rest of the information you need to effectively address the question you set, and implement it into your thesis.

While this is a very simplified explanation of how to tackle postgraduate research, I understand if you still feel as though the process will be daunting. These 5 tips are based on the tactics and strategies I learned and used to get started on my own postgraduate research, and should help you feel more confident about how to tackle your own research project:

1. Start early.

It’s important to start thinking about how you’ll approach your thesis research as early as possible, as this will provide you with enough time to read your resources thoroughly and assess their quality. As a postgraduate student, you will have a good understanding of research basics, but if you want to build on this skill to improve your research effectiveness, find out more about how USQ’s Library can help support you.

2. Know how to use your resources.

Programs like Endnote are invaluable to researchers. They form a database for all of the literature you will come across on your research journey. To get the most out of the research resources you have available to you as a postgrad student, get to know your librarian, access Endnote lessons, understand how to use databases and know what tools you have at your fingertips.

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3. Keep plugging away.

While the amount of research you need to do at the start of your degree may seem like Mt Everest, it is in fact made up of many steps. It can be extremely intimidating to look at what you need to do as a whole, so break your research project down into smaller sections, which can be a way of keeping yourself motivated throughout the time it takes you to complete your thesis.

4. Ask for help.

Most academic staff are more than happy to assist students who are struggling with research. Remember, they were in the same position as you once! If you don’t know how to find something or just want someone to bounce ideas off, ask for assistance and redirection. You can waste a great deal of time by getting off track or sidelined during a long-term research project, so it’s important to regularly stand back and ask ‘is what I am doing now going to help me answer or address my research question?’

5. Find a mentor.

Mentors do not judge you when you need to ask those ‘silly’ questions and are there to help support you during your degree. They have experienced the research world so learn from, and use, their invaluable experience to guide you through the research process.

Starting a postgraduate research project for the first time can feel overwhelming, but there is plenty of support resources and contacts available to you that can help you find your feet. The research you conduct as part of your postgraduate degree has the potential to have an important influence on your own professional and academic career, so it’s important to feel comfortable and confident in your own skills as well as the support resources available to you as a student.

If you want to learn more about how to successfully tackle postgraduate research, get in touch with the librarians at your USQ Library on-campus or online and discover the range of support available.


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