Life as a postgraduate student

Unlike most of my friends, I have not graduated from my undergraduate degree, however some of my friends have graduated and moved on to postgraduate studies.

I have managed to get a preview of postgraduate life through my friends, Carrie Wilkinson and Susie Clement. Both of them completed postgraduate studies in the Bachelor of Science at the University of Wollongong. During this academic year, I have seen them on the bus to go into uni, at the computer labs, having lunch and of course working hard on their theses. They have just finished and have received their marks and I talked to them about their lives as postgraduate students.

Carrie’s thesis involved the study of birdwatchers.

“Basically it was an exploration of why people watch birds, where and when they watch birds, how do they watch birds and what technologies and equipment they use to watch birds. I was attempting to learn more about the diversity in practices, experiences, expectations and values of people who watch birds in Australia.”

Carrie told me that she used different research methods to get her work done—reviewing Australian and international bird watching literature, interviewing birdwatchers as well as going along with them on their bird watches. The final product of her hard work was a 200 page, 35,000 word thesis. She told me that her routine had to be rigidly structured and she withdrew from our friendship circle as a result, although she wasn’t alone with Susie doing her own thesis, I would see them together nearly all the time.

“It was great knowing there were others who were suffering too! It gets pretty lonely when you’re in the computer labs for hours on end—early in the morning, late, at night and on weekends. So I always loved it when Susie would come in, in the mornings.”

Susie loved it when she saw Carrie too.

“I don’t really like too much alone time, but unfortunately this year I was living alone as my partner worked and lived interstate. I chose to come to uni to do my work, rather than studying at home because then there was more of a chance to bump into people. I really think the times of human interaction saved me. Our coffee and lunch breaks were great!”

Susie’s thesis looked at alcohol use of women living in country towns. She also used similar research methods to Carrie. When I asked her how different studying postgraduate is to undergraduate, she gave me an interesting response.

“In undergraduate course work you usually do an assignment, hand it in and hope for the best mark. You might get feedback on your work but it’s never really useful as you’ve already finished the assignment. Writing a thesis is a constant negotiation of addressing and incorporating the feedback from your supervisor and others, this feedback may point the project in a new direction.”

To get through the demands of their studies, both Susie and Carrie opted for recreational activities—Susie opted for dancing and netball, Carrie, the gym. Both of them got a mark which awarded them First Class Honours and are graduating this month. When I asked them if they would consider further postgraduate studies, they both said yes. Carrie said that postgraduate studies helped her prepare for the workforce more than her undergraduate studies did.

“Doing Honours this year has given me skills and confidence I never knew I had and I think that because of this experience, I have a lot more to offer potential employers and I am much more confident in my abilities as a worker.”


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