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Real-life insights into postgraduate education

Thinking about postgraduate education? Three students share their decisions, experiences, challenges, and outcomes.
PhD student looking at the camera in front of a field

Enrolling in postgraduate education is one of life’s big decisions. We know there are heaps of compelling reasons to get going with postgraduate study (if you’re keen to delve into the benefits for your career, pay and networking, read our article).

We also know that there are potential barriers to consider, along with ways to minimise or eliminate these (if these are a concern, this article might be a good read for you).

To help you anticipate the benefits, challenges, and potential outcomes of postgrad study, let’s hear from three students from the University of Southern Queensland (UniSQ) for some real-life insights.

Time for some introductions!

Meet Shona, John and Nataliea

Shona Wood is a 37-year-old who has almost completed her PhD at UniSQ in the field of agriculture, studying disease resistance in peanuts. She’s also a mother of two who previously worked as a chef. “I love anything food related,” she says. “Growing, cooking and eating.”

John Fry completed an MBA (Master of Business Administration) while also working full-time as an Operations Manager in the construction sector. He studied at a postgraduate level despite never having completed an undergraduate degree. “I left school with no desire to go to university and commenced an apprenticeship as an electrician,” he says.

Nataliea Lowson is a 28-year-old PhD candidate in the field of astronomy whose interest in space started as a child. She’s also a keen traveller, needleworker and lover of both walking outdoors and snuggling with her cat. She’s chosen to undertake a ‘thesis by publication’ style PhD. “There’s no coursework required,” she explains. “I will be publishing three first-author papers, which are then incorporated into my thesis.”

Real-life decisions to undertake postgraduate study

Nataliea always knew she was aiming to undertake postgraduate study. “Prior to entering tertiary study, I knew my end goal would involve a PhD,” she says.

For Shona, the idea of postgraduate study came later. “The idea of undertaking further study hadn’t occurred to me,” she says. “It developed during my undergrad studies.” Her motivation was more down-to-earth. “The main reason I undertook my PhD was to have a secure job at the end of it,” she says.

After John completed his electrician apprenticeship, he gradually moved into more specialised roles and then supervisory and management positions. “It was only once I gained a level of experience that I decided to do a graduate certificate,” he says. “Which then flowed into the MBA.”

Overcoming barriers to postgraduate study

John was initially hesitant to enrol in postgrad study. “I had left school a period of time ago and never considered myself as a university student,” he says, noting that starting with a postgraduate certificate was the ideal first step. “Once I completed it, I had a level of confidence and was motivated to do the MBA,” he says.

Shona’s biggest concern before starting her postgraduate study was work-life balance, something that further increased as she started a family. “Having two kids during my studies was a challenge,” she says. “But it didn’t stop me completing my PhD and it was also a good motivator. My partner has always been very supportive and is a stay-at-home dad.”

Once underway with his MBA studies, John found ways to balance his different demands. “I tried to balance work, study and family time the best I could,” he says. “Ultimately, you need to remain focused on why you are doing it and make it work the best you can for your situation.”

Nataliea’s biggest initial barrier was geographic. “I'm not originally from Queensland, so moving to a different part of the country was something I worried about.”

Both Nataliea and Shona received scholarships to support their study. “I’m happy I receive a government scholarship for this degree and I’ve taken on additional work with the university to increase my income,” Nataliea says. Shona received the same Research Training Program (RTP) in addition to an industry-specific top-up scholarship, so she recommends those considering postgraduate study look into all the options available.

Postgraduate study support

John recommends postgrad students make the most of the support available. “If you can, make time to attend as many coaching calls or opportunities you have to engage with your facilitators … it was a great way to tap into their vast levels of experiences and knowledge,” he says, adding that he also recommends taking advantage of services like library staff and UniSQ learning advisors. “Doing that early on made a significant difference for my writing and researching, which led to better results.”

Nataliea gives credit to her UniSQ supervisors. “Given how new a student is to research, the support of a supervisory panel can make-or-break the success of a PhD,” says Nataliea.

Shona’s supervisor was instrumental in helping her through her personal as well as study-based challenges. “Whenever I hit any roadblocks, they kept reminding me how far I had come,” she says.

Life after postgraduate study

John’s biggest motivator for his postgrad study was to keep bettering himself. Now he’s achieved the goal he never thought he’d have, he’s going to see what happens, including a possible move from operations-based to strategic roles. “My advice for others is to be prepared to do the hard yards, as whatever you put into it, you’ll get out tenfold.”

Shona is excited to have recently submitted her PhD thesis and have her first scientific writing accepted for publication. She’s also optimistic about the real-life impact of her research.

Nataliea’s PhD is continuing, so she’s in a great position to advise others who are considering this level of postgraduate study. “It’s always a great idea to contact the people you’re interested in working with,” she says. “Likewise, it’s helpful to contact students already in that research group to get a student-orientated opinion.”

Postgraduate study is seeing Nataliea fulfil a childhood dream of gazing up into space. John credits his MBA with leading him on a path of self-reflection as well as strategic leadership. And, for Shona, a PhD has deepened her love of food and ensured a secure future for her career.

If Shona, John and Nataliea’s real-life insights have inspired you, head to our postgraduate study website to get started on your postgrad journey!

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