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Planning your Research Project & + additional perspective :- Michael Withford Project Managing Your Thesis Dr. Wendy Noble EFS Academic Writing Specialist Macquarie University New Slide My Background…… Research insights……. University wide University Research Grant Sub-Committee 2002-06

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project managing your thesis

Planning your Research Project


+ additional perspective :-

Michael Withford

Project Managing Your Thesis

Dr. Wendy Noble EFS Academic Writing SpecialistMacquarie University

my background

New Slide

My Background……
  • Research insights…….University wide
    • University Research Grant Sub-Committee 2002-06
      • Including MQ PGRF assessments and interviews
    • Research Grant Committee 2006-08
    • Adhoc participation in MQ PGRF 2007-09
      • Arts, Human Sciences, Business and Economics, Science
  • Research supervision…….Science oriented!
    • Lead large research team
      • 10 academic staff and 10 postgrads
    • Node Director for a national fabrication facility
      • A resource for postgrads (and others) across Australia

Getting there

  • Motivation
  • Becoming a Researcher
  • Managing Your Supervisor
  • Project Management
  • Why are you doing this?

If doing this to prove yourself to others; compete with others; win a Nobel prize; avoid the world; doing it because you should; because you don’t know what else to do, then your motivation is based on shaky ground.

  • Have you got what it takes?

You need enthusiasm; willingness to accept responsibility for your progress and not blame others; avoidance of psychological indulgences; determined work ethic of self-discipline; effective organisation and time management; and loving negotiation with partners, friends and family

  • This is your job
  • But enjoy it!

“Many people forget to enjoy the process. Writing a thesis provides so many opportunities to learn, to be creative, to travel, to present, to talk to stimulating people. Too many people regard it as a chore, always a trauma, such a serious business."

support team
Support Team

“No man is an island…”

Decide who the key people are that you can call on to:

  • Recommend resources
  • Provide specialist expertise
  • Read your drafts
  • Give practical help
  • Keep you honest
  • Encourage you personally
support team6

New Slide

Support Team
  • Supervisors and……..
  • Other postgrad students are an important resource
    • Your research group
    • Collaborating groups
    • Your department
    • MUPRA
  • Your peers can provide all key forms of support
becoming a researcher
Becoming a researcher

In Australia becoming a researcher means basically four things:

  • Taking a fully critical approach
    • A need for analysis, critical appraisal and argument in academic writing.
  • Entering the conversation
    • Listen to the scholarly conversations around you: note themes, topics, questions and ‘hot topics’.
  • Acquiring independence as a researcher
    • A supervisor will not direct as an ‘authority figure’ who will direct every stage. You are expected to become increasingly independent with guidance from your supervisor. It is your thesis.
  • Be pro-active with your supervisor
    • Request a regular meeting time (via email), ask questions, be specific about requests, set an agenda and complete action items on time. Gain respect. (Craswell, 2005)
managing your supervisor
Managing Your Supervisor

Candidates and Supervisors should use their first meetings together to plan:

  • Regular meeting times
  • How to maintain contact for feedback, record research decisions, and action items
  • Long and short term research goals.
  • Financial expenditure for equipment, conferences etc.
  • Publication and co-publication strategies that will be part of the thesis.
challenges to managing your supervisor

New Slide

Challenges to Managing Your Supervisor!
  • Supervisors are time poor / schedules can slip
    • Factor this into your plans
      • Write regular progress reports
        • Keeps supervisor engaged in your project and is a useful opportunity for self-reflection
      • Be proactive scheduling regular meetings
  • Approach your supervisor with a solution
    • Don’t wait for them to solve your problems
  • Don’t assume they are aware of all possible resources
    • Do you own searches
    • Develop your own networks (conferences are an ideal opportunity for doing so)
shared resources university national international

New Slide

Shared Resources: University, National, International
  • University
    • Example: Microscopy Unit – Dept of Biological Sciences
      • Used by ancient history, physics, geology…..and biology
    • Search the web, ask questions (staff and students)
  • National
    • Recent Commonwealth initiatives (NCRIS and Super Science) establishing National Facilities with open door policy
    • Characterisation see; Fabrication see; time on super-computers etc
    • Similarly, national databases available
  • International
    • Open access
    • Via collaborators
what is thesis management

^ Research Project

^ Research Project

What is Thesis Management?

Basically it is Project Management in a different dress…

  • Project management is the overall planning and coordination of a project, from inception to completion, aimed at meeting the client's requirements and ensuring completion on time, within budget and to required quality standards.
  • In your case “project ” = “thesis” and you are the “client”
what does a project manager do
What does a Project Manager do?
  • Manage the timely completion of a specified deliverable (i.e. your thesis)
  • Provide a point of accountability
  • Identify the risks that may potentially impact completion
  • Plan contingencies for each identified risk
  • Identify all dependencies
project management tools
Project Management Tools
  • Action Plan - A record of step-by-step tasks aligned to realistic due dates (see 16,17)
  • Risk Log - Risk is anything which may cause the project to end in such a way that it does not fully meet its identified targets and objectives
  • Task Management - A detailed plan for a particular step that is complex
  • Chapter Outlines - Concise (2 page max)
time management tools
Time Management Tools

Since writing a thesis is full-time job, treat it like one. Your diary is not suddenly empty!

Project Management Tools

  • A calendar or diary
  • A task-project list
  • An action list
  • A daily planner

“A simple system regularly used is far more effective than a complex one used half-heartedly.”(Hunt, A 2005)


A calendar or diary

  • Plan the whole project, this month, this week, today
  • Block out time to research (read and write)
  • Enter every new appointment

A task-project list

  • What do you need to do (only by you)?
  • What do you need to complete?
  • What have you promised to others?
  • What would you like to do but haven’t started yet?

An action list

  • A list of actions generated from the previous level of project-planning now ordered into categories.

A daily planner

  • A calendar of events for one day that must be carried out and those that could be.
starting point

New Slide

Starting Point:
  • Candidate Management Plan
  • “There are a number of milestones to be achieved during your candidature and we have mapped these out in a Candidature Management Plan (CMP). The aims of the CMP are to ensure you are aware of the nature of these milestones as they relate to your research progression so that you can plan ahead and also to assist you in developing a realistic timeline for research completion by the due date. “
extract from cmp

New Slide

Extract from CMP:
  • 12 months - full-time equivalent enrolment
  • Completion of Annual Report and MUSEQ-R
  • SCHOLARSHIP HOLDER: No LOA/Scholarship suspension normally permitted in first year
  • Main Literature Review or equivalent completed
  • Design of research methodology completed
  • Final draft of Research proposal submitted
  • Ethics Committee application submitted and approved
  • Data collection commenced
  • Candidate to check Research Student Profile details through eStudent
  • Thesis completion timetable revised
need to plan with more detail

New Slide

Need to plan with more detail
  • Factor in conferences, deadlines for papers etc
    • Includes planning around PGRF rounds
  • Factor in availability on necessary resources
  • Factor in problems:
    • Unexpected results
    • Equipment failure, database unavailability
  • Consider using a GANTT chart or similar
writing your project grants

New Slide

Writing your project grants
  • Read the guidelnes
  • Get the timing right!
    • Some Faculty CMPs include advice on when to target MQ PGRF
    • MQ PGRF: 2 rounds a year….not to be used retrospectively
    • Submission dates / acceptance for conferences up to 6 months before.
  • Summary and title are critical
    • Need to capture attention of the assessor within the 1st page of text….take them along for the ride!
    • Don’t confuse outputs (eg. publications, books, patent) with outcomes (eg. Impact to the field)
    • …….and stick to 100 word limit!
  • Write in a clear fashion. Structure your arguments
  • Do your homework
    • Demonstrate value adding, demonstrate costs saved
  • At the interview…..don’t be afraid to let your passion show!
getting started
Getting Started

Recruiting a thesis manager

  • Someone who is organized
  • Someone you can talk to but who won’t buy your excuses
  • Someone who cares about your completion

Setting ground rules

  • Complete a brief
  • Assess commitment
  • Meet regularly (e.g. weekly for 1 hour)
  • Set realistic targets
  • Achieve targets
tell it like it is
Tell it like it is

Give an honest account:

  • Write a brief (plain English) description of what your thesis is about.
  • What are the formal requirements? (i.e. length, format, time limits, etc)
  • How much have you done? What is your working timetable?
  • What, if anything, is hindering you?
  • What outcomes could you look forward to?
not there to be best friend
Not there to be ‘best friend’
  • Encourage / motivate
  • Provide a ‘sounding board’
  • Admonish (tactfully) as needed
  • Constantly remind about the task at hand and ensure proper focus is maintained
eat the toad
“Eat the TOAD!”
  • This expression refers to the importance of doing the most important thing (difficult or distasteful though it may be) to be done in your day FIRST. For example - writing your thesis.
reflections on thesis management
Reflections on thesis management

From student’s perspective:

  • Drive your own thesis- don’t wait for the system
  • Go public
    • tell friends and family your completion date
    • post action plan where you and others can see it
    • ask for support and encouragement
  • Write often and tie tasks to a positive outcome

e.g. Write early in the morning before checking

emails or having a coffee

reflections on thesis management28
Reflections on thesis management

From project manager’s perspective:

  • Different emphasis in academic world
    • Often thesis is a highly personal project
    • Not always simply a matter of $ and cents
  • Commitment and motivation paramount
  • Appropriate to step back at times
  • Satisfaction

Craswell, G.(2005) Writing for Academic Success

Evans, D. and E. Gruba (2002) How to Write a Better Thesis

Green, L. Survive and Thrive While Writing your Thesis, UMel

Hunt, A. (2005) Your Research Project: How to manage it

Kearns, H. and M. Gardiner (2006) Getting Your PhD Finished, Flinders University

Paltridge, B. and S. Starfield (2007) Thesis and Dissertation Writing

in a Second Language

Perry, C. A Structured Approach to Presenting Theses: notes for students and their supervisors (find on web as revised on 3.11.02)

Swales and Feak (2004) Academic Writing for Graduate Students