Benefits of a research degree

A graduate research degree provides a unique opportunity to follow an area of interest, focus on this for several years and make an important contribution to the development of your chosen area.

Graduate research programs

At UWA the administration of most graduate research degrees and scholarships is centralised through the Graduate Research and Scholarships Office. However, because students are based in schools, most of the supervision, day-to-day management and allocation of resources are matters for the school.

Graduate Research and Scholarships Office staff are an important source of assistance and advice for graduate research students. Administrative staff can help students with matters related to graduate research candidature or scholarships. For many students, contact is limited to matters associated with initial enrolment, allocation and administration of scholarships, submission and approval of the Research Proposal, submission of the Annual Progress Report, and submission and examination of theses.

The topic of research is decided and refined by the student and supervisors as the student prepares a Research Proposal for submission to the Graduate Research and Scholarships Office for approval. For students undertaking a PhD, the Proposal is due in six months (full-time equivalent) after commencement. For those undertaking a master's degree, the Proposal is due four months (full-time equivalent) after commencement. For PhD students, continuation of enrolment beyond the first year is contingent on a formal Confirmation of Candidature process, which includes a formal report on agreed tasks for the first year.

All students must submit Annual Progress Reports every year on the anniversaries of their commencement.

All tasks set out by coordinators in the Research Proposal must be completed within 12 months. For full-time PhD students, all tasks leading towards Confirmation of Candidature must be completed within 12 months.

Difference between a graduate research project and honours

Short-term research projects, such as those undertaken in honours or postgraduate diplomas, are essential training for graduate researchers.

However, just as the transition from an undergraduate course to honours or a postgraduate diploma usually requires a student to acquire and develop new skills, the transition into a graduate research degree involves a much higher level of independent thinking, planning and activity than most students expect. Most students find the transition both challenging and exciting; some find it daunting, even when they have performed well in honours.

A graduate research degree provides a unique opportunity to follow an area of interest, focus on this for several years and make an important contribution to the development of your chosen area. The focus is on your capacity for innovative, independent research; critical thinking; time and project management skills; and problem-solving. You will also need to have, or to develop, excellent skills of organisation and communication of information.

Benefits of extra study

Many high-achieving students choose to undertake a research degree because they have the drive to progress as far as they can in their chosen field. The continued challenge and enjoyment of independent research are, for many, rewards in themselves.

In addition, graduates from higher degree by research programs are highly employable, across many areas of study. You can check the statistics for your field of interest at Graduate Careers.

In some disciplines, such as Science, it is almost mandatory to have a master's or PhD in order to progress. Similarly, in order to make a career in academia, a graduate research qualification is necessary. However, graduates from some areas find there are limited employment opportunities in their particular field of interest and that they have to look more widely.

The reason that graduates from all areas experience a high rate of success in employment is that the generic or transferable skills required for success in a graduate research degree are the same skills that are in high demand by employers. In particular, successful completion of a research degree indicates to a prospective employer that you have excellent project and personal management skills, and that you can think independently and critically, solve problems and communicate effectively. The transferable skills developed through a research degree are usually more durable, and therefore more valuable, than the content knowledge gained.

Graduate researcher skills

However, the decision to enter into a research degree should not be taken lightly. Undertaking an intensive two- to four-year project, with all that it entails, is not for everyone. It's important that prospective graduate research students inform themselves about what graduate research involves before making their decision.

Similarly, prospective and new students should prepare carefully before commencing (see 'What to consider' section). This requirement is as important for those progressing from honours in the same university as for students starting at a new university.