Postgraduate research skills

Successful postgraduate students are interested in pursuing a particular area of study in more depth, familiar with the requirements of advanced academic work, and prepared to do independent research. They take advantage of the resources and services available to them, and they have a real commitment to the programme of study they have chosen.

Studying at postgraduate level is a step up from undergraduate study. So long as you know what’s involved and have strategies in place to deal with the demands of postgraduate study, you will be prepared for the challenges ahead.

Are you familiar with academic writing and comfortable following complex arguments?

You will be required to read extensively during your postgraduate studies and reflect critically on what you read. A significant amount of the time required for your study will be spent reading.

It is possible to further develop these skills by becoming more familiar with the type of material you will be required to read and practising the task of evaluating what you read. This is a skill that you will continue to develop further during your postgraduate studies.

For further details see OWLL resource on critical reading.

Do you feel confident that you have the writing skills necessary for postgraduate study?

Postgraduate study requires a higher standard of written expression. Ideas are more complex, so it is important for you to be able to clearly and concisely express your viewpoint.

Even experienced academics say that they continue to develop their communication skills. Massey has a number of useful resources to assist you in developing your existing skills further. These include a guide to tertiary level writing and one-on-one help from advisers at the Teaching and Learning Centres.

Are you prepared to use a range of literature to show the development of your own ideas and arguments?

At postgraduate level you must do more than simply describe everything you have read. Postgraduate study requires you to demonstrate your understanding of the connections between the various pieces of work you read and use this literature to support your own ideas.

For further details see OWLL resource on identifying academic sources.

Do you know what a literature review is and how to go about writing one?

Literature reviews provide a critical overview of a range of sources (literature) on a particular topic. This is often done in the context of a larger study to provide a solid foundation for further research. The Library can help with finding resources.

You may already have extensive experience locating relevant literature and then developing a literature review. Remember that at postgraduate level study you will be required to read more broadly and show you understand how to critically evaluate the literature.

OWLL provides some excellent resources to help you develop the skills necessary to complete this task well, including this OWLL resource on literature review.

Do you know how to use the Library to find books on a specific topic?

Good library skills are essential to successful postgraduate study, as you will be required to do your own independent searching for materials. The best way to search for books on a particular topic is to do a Keyword Search in the online Library Catalogue.

The Massey Library web pages provides excellent help about searching.

Do you know how to find a journal article when you have been provided with the reference?

Journal articles will provide a major source of scholarly information during your postgraduate studies. To find a journal article when you have the reference, search the EBSCO Discovery website and put the article title in quotation marks or use key words from the article and author. You can also search for the name of a journal (not the article) using the Library Catalogue.

The Library provides a brief online tutorial on how to locate journals when you already know the reference.

Do you know which journal article databases contain journals of most relevance to your subject?

The Library subscribes to a wide variety of databases containing journal, magazine and newspaper articles, book chapters, conference proceedings, theses, industry and technical reports and case studies. You can look on the Library website to find a list of journal databases containing relevant material for your subject. Knowing how to use these databases for searching is a vital tool for postgraduate study.

Do you know what assistance the Library is able to offer postgraduate students?

Knowing how to use the Library well is a key skill for postgraduate students. The Library offers a wide range of services, including research consultations for students undertaking research projects or theses.

It may be helpful to begin developing your library skills by checking out the Library website. This includes information about searching and who to ask for further assistance.

Are you able to manage your work and organise your workload to meet deadlines?

If not, that’s OK; before you begin your studies is a good time to address this! It is essential to organise your work plan at the beginning of your study. 

When you’re studying at postgraduate level, it is important to be able to establish your own schedule and keep to it. Guidance will be available, but as a postgraduate student you will be expected to organise your own work.

Check out the Workload Calculator. You may also find the Time Management Strategies useful.

Are you willing to actively participate in your programme of study and ask for advice when you need it?

Being an active learner is an important part of postgraduate study. You will be expected to ask questions and to share your views with others.

You won’t be expected to have all the answers though, and it is just as important to be able to ask for assistance when you need it. You could also ask your course co-ordinator or supervisor to put you in touch with other students working on similar projects or areas.