Orientation for graduate researchers - 21 July 2015 (Tseen Khoo)

There's nothing worse that fronting up at a new degree, then going through those initial weeks and months of not-knowing just about everything.

We like to think we know things, especially if we've managed to get into a research higher degree program!

To help graduate researchers acclimatise quickly to La Trobe University, and let them know how they can find assistance and advice, the Semester 2 Orientation was held last Tuesday (21 July) at John Scott Meeting House.

L to R: Michael Chan, Leda Hidalgo, and Md. Aminul Islam
About thirty graduate researchers, many university staff (academic and professional), and expert panels of PhD students and supervisors participated in the day's activities.

The Orientation program (.pdf) for the day was very full, and aimed to get new graduate researchers off to a strong start with their studies and feeling at home within the institution.

Units presenting at the Orientation included the Graduate Research School, Ethics and Integrity, Library, Student Union, and Student Learning.

Higher degree study is notorious for being an isolating experience, but it certainly doesn't have to be that way.

After a warm welcome in the foyer while everyone got their necessary caffeine fixes, Kelly Farrell immediately got everyone working on a skills audit: listing what skills they brought with them into the degree, and what they thought they'd need to successfully complete the degree.

It was a great exercise, and I heard many considered and insightful comments during the discussions. The groups then charted their existing and aspirational skills and expertise.

Skills audit exercise - what's needed for the degree?

Skills audit exercise - charted
The sessions that followed, broken up with tea breaks and lunch, provided plenty of information about what's available to graduate researchers at La Trobe.

As importantly, the panels and many of the speakers provided wise words on how to survive and thrive during a graduate research degree, and talked about effective ways of dealing with study challenges.

Kelly's number one piece of advice about supervision for new graduate researchers was: "Be explicit about expectations - theirs AND yours." The experienced PhD students and supervisors also echoed this sentiment, so that can be one take-away for everyone that's a keeper!

Experienced PhD panel members, Katie Buckley and Samuel Armoo
The PhD students' experience panel consisted of Samuel Armoo (Animal, Plant and Soil Sciences), Edwina Kay (Archaeology, Environment and Community Planning), and Katie Buckley (Centre for Sport and Social Impact).

They provided great advice on a big range of research degree habits and strategies, from how to structure your time to ensuring you are maintaining your health.

The best aspect of hearing their stories is realising that there is no ONE way to do a PhD - everyone's circumstances and perspectives will be different.

After lunch was an excellent session with Robyn Murphy (Biochemistry and Genetics) and Michael O'Keefe (Institute of Human Security and Social Change), who were sharing their supervisory stories and better practices.

Their key piece of advice, also heard on the PhD panel earlier, was for supervisory meetings to always be written up as notes that are then shared between the candidate and supervising team. This ensures that everyone is clear on what was discussed! Such a simple technique is invaluable for keeping communication channels open and, hopefully, addressing any issues early.

There is a Storify of #orientation livetweets, which features many useful links for graduate researchers who are just starting at La Trobe University. We have also uploaded an album of July Orientation images at our Facebook page.

I'll leave the final comment about Orientation to Corinne Celestina, who tweeted us after the event: