Proposal ponderings: words of wisdom from Natalie Jamieson

A blog post for those about to submit a Research and Industry Subject proposal and application.

Dr Natalie Jamieson: Research and Industry Subject coordinator

So the proposal deadline is Monday 18th May – three working days and a weekend away. You have been working hard on your proposal – writing, sending drafts to supervisors and responding to their feedback, trying to work within the 500 word limit to best convey the ideas you have for your project.

You are still not sure though. You have been reading and writing as much as you can but feel that you haven’t quite captured what you are trying to do yet. You are not sure if you want to use more than 500 words or less. Your supervisor keeps making suggestions and adding ideas – where do you put those? What happened to the original ideas  – are they still there? Does it all make sense as an idea for a research project?

Unless you haven’t written your proposal at all yet (!), it is probably time to sit back, take a break and cast a reflective eye over the work you have done, do some editing and submit it on Monday.

Here is what you should be looking for as you review your proposal.

Word limits: Around 500 words should be enough to address the main elements of the research proposal. It is not the end of the world if your proposal is a little more or a little less. Remember this proposal is the first step. I will be able to see if you have a researchable question and a method for answering that question if you have addressed the key elements of a research proposal outlined in the model proposal.

Statement of aims/objectives and research question/hypothesis: These elements capture the intention of your work and they communicate to me that you know you are investigating an issue of interest to you.

Research context: a sentence or two here will tell the reader of your proposal (i.e. me and your supervisor) that you have done some reading and are able to locate your inquiry in an academic debate relevant to your particular topic. In providing the context you will also be addressing the importance and relevance of your work in contemporary environment and sustainability debates (in your chosen field of course).

Method: this is the bit where you identify how you are going to go about answering your question. A general idea of what you intend with some examples is required. For example, interviews with people who participate in a community garden is a start but I really want to see “six to eight interviews with participants, the co-ordinator and the local council officer responsible will be conducted’. Or ‘data from Melbourne water about environmental flow information on the Thomson River will be analysed from 1999 to 2008’.

Know this: I can read between the lines and I know that projects change and develop over time. I am expecting to see a clearly outlined start to your project – such that I will have a strong sense that your project is achievable in the time available. If I have queries I will follow up with you and your supervisor. I may ask you to re-submit. All this is part of the process.

The OEP R1 Application form: Must be completed in full by Monday 18th; all signatures, budget, assessment details. If there are gaps I will follow up with you but they will delay my ability to process your application towards acceptance and then enrolment.

FYI: ethics, fieldwork risk assessment, travel risks, budgets are elements you discuss with your supervisor. All this is detailed at Research and Industry Subjects home page, but I have had many questions in recent days hence this reminder. Assessment should be specified by your supervisor – if they are not sure, tell them to read Information for Supervisors.

Submit your proposals and forms:  hard copy to the OEP, electronic copies to Scanned signatures are okay.

I will acknowledge receipt of your proposal and application in due course. You can assume if you gave it to Lyn or sent an email that I received it. Let me get on with working through them as quickly as possible.

The end result of this early preparation for a Research Subject is a confident student with a clear research plan who finishes successfully on time. This is a great thing to see.

I look forward to once again being amazed at the extraordinary range of OEP student interests and skills when I start to read your proposals next week!

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OEP Internship information session slides

OEP students who were unable to attend Semester One Internship information session no.1, we are pleased to provide you with copies of the slides from this session.
Reminder, next session (repeat) will be held 5-6pm, Monday 19th May.

Slides:  Internships information session slides


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Research Subjects: Which one is for me?

GA000635Does Environmental Research Review have the same requirements as other research subjects?

In which Natalie Jamieson, Research subjects coordinator, addresses some more common questions.  

The plethora of subjects under the banner of ‘Research’ and available to OEP students can be confusing.  In this post I address some further common questions.

Why so many subject options?

The reason is simple – they increase study options and flexibility for students. For example 25 and 50 point subjects can be undertaken over either one or two semesters. Students can apply to a subject which best allows you to accommodate other study and work commitments.  A further consideration might be the type of project you have in mind.  Many science topics for example require a ‘field season’ that can be appropriately scheduled in a two semester research subject.

I am interested in further study (ie a PhD); what is the minimum research subject points I should take?

Assuming you have no prior research subject experience, say from study at the Honours level, at Melbourne University you should do a minimum of 25 points of research in the final year of your degree. This minimum will allow you to apply to a PhD program at this University. If you have other institutions in mind you should find out their requirements.

Are the requirements for taking ENST90006 Environmental Research Review 12.5 points the same as all the other research subjects?

The short answer is yes.

ENST90006 is a research subject like any other.  You must have a researchable question or issue.  An academic supervisor is required to assist you in developing that research question. The supervisor also assists in identifying the academic literature that you are going to engage in order to address the question you have posed. You must submit a proposal and an application form.

The literature review based research subject does not require that you do any original research. You do not need to gather any data or information. Rather, you focus your research activities on examining a conversation that has occurred in the academic literature. You need an interesting problem or ‘hook’ to get into the literature.

Here is a really great example from last year. A student was aware that current Victorian fire management strategies made assumptions about Aboriginal fire practices of the past. He decided to review the literature to see what was known about Aboriginal fire practices. Literature searches were streamlined to two main themes – the cultural record and the scientific record, and a focus in the high country of Victoria. The conclusion was that neither record was extensive enough to make any robust conclusions about impacts of Aboriginal fire regimes, but that what was known did contribute some knowledge about alpine ecologies and their relationship with fire.

What do I write about in Environmental Research Review?

This subject requires a specialised approach to literature searching and reading; one that requires a question to be examined or an issue to be explored. Your final report documents your engagement with the literature including your interpretations of the assumptions, debates, research foci that you encounter. You will be making an argument about the literature that you have reviewed, putting forward a claim or conclusion arising from your reading.

As for any research subject, a proposal is the first step in describing the scope and focus of your investigation.  An academic supervisor provides essential support as you select literature, review and shape an argument in response to the academic conversation you wish to engage for your area of interest.

What will I get out of an Environmental Research Review?

Like several who have taken ENST90006 in the past, the student with the Aboriginal fire history project used this subject to explore an issue of great interest to him, as well as the possibility of a future related research project.

Other students have undertaken ENST90006 to create some time and space for doing some back up reading that relates to a project that they are doing in their paid work.

I look forward to finding out your reason for doing ENST90006 Environmental Research Review!

Proposals for Sem 2, 2015 due Monday 18th May, 5pm

Further Information and Advice:
Research and Industry Subjects and/or Dr Natalie Jamieson, Research and Industry Subject Coordinator





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Thinking about a Research or Industry subject in Semester 2, 2015?

Some words of advice from Natalie Jamieson, Subject coordinator of research project subjects at the OEP.

It’s a month or two till the deadline for proposal submission (May 18th, 5pm).  You know this because yet another reminder from the OEP has landed in your email in-boOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAx or flashed up on Facebook. You want to do a research project in semester two this year but you haven’t quite gotten a plan together yet – what do you do? Don’t panic. There is still time. You do need to focus and start taking some steps though.

Students who have travelled this path before you have had many different experiences. I share some common stories here for inspiration.

I have a general idea but I don’t have a specific project in mind yet, should I approach a supervisor now or after I have a topic?

It’s time to get talking to someone with expertise relevant to the general area you have in mind for research. If you have done your homework right and are talking to the best person then it is highly likely that a specific project idea will emerge from the conversation. Academic researchers have experience working from the kernel of an idea to a researchable question or hypothesis.

I have some academics in mind but should I/how do I approach them?

There is a reason a famous advertising campaign has been so successful. ‘Just do it’, cause you have to. Start with an email. Outline your question, the issue, your interests, your research subject plans and conclude by asking for a meeting time. There are tips for approaching academic supervisors in the Research and Industry Subject Guide. You need to have a conversation with a potential supervisor; it is best done in person.

I have approached a number of people but they haven’t gotten back to me.

This happens unfortunately. I don’t know why from the point of view of the person you wrote to. What I do know is that you can review and revise your approach strategies. Have you given enough idea about who you are, what you are interested in and what sort of subject you are preparing towards? Get someone else to review the email you wrote and revise as required.

Have you approached the right sorts of people? Try to draft your proposal – a sketch out of your ideas at the very least. What are the key words? Who do you know about who has relevant expertise? Check find an expert. Ask other students. Consult an academic advisor.

The academics I have approached said they were unavailable to be my supervisor?

In some cases for reasons relating to workload and/or availability academics say no to your request for supervision. Many departments have workload limits and some academics have too many students hence they will be unable to take you on as a student.  Academics may also be on study leave. Whilst it is always disappointing, remember that what is most important is being supervised by someone who is available to meet with you in the semester or two in which you are enrolled and has time to read your work and provide timely and constructive feedback.

Always ask for suggestions of colleagues with relevant expertise that you might approach.

The proposal and application form deadline (May 18th, 5pm) is real and won’t be extended. As well as topic preparation you need to take care of the paperwork. Particularly, ensure that you allow enough time to get signatures from the relevant Head of Department. No signatures means no enrolment in a research subject.

It is daunting to get a research project idea off the ground, but the rewards are fantastic. Students report high levels of satisfaction and intellectual engagement in research and industry subjects. They also very much enjoy the opportunity to work closely with an expert academic supervisor on a topic that they feel passionate about.

Find your passion, talk to someone. You can do it.

Further Advice:

Research and Industry Subjects and/or Dr Natalie Jamieson, Research and Industry Subject Coordinator

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Coffee information chat @ OEP

nametag open dayAre you interested in studying environment and sustainability but not sure whether your degree is relevant? Do you want to know what skills you will gain in a truly multi disciplinary program?
Or what environmental career you might go into?

Join us for a chat and coffee with our academics about your options. You’ll meet some current students and learn more about the course.

We offer Masters, Graduate Diploma and Graduate Certificate degrees all with flexible study options. Applications for Semester 2, 2015 close 31st May 2015; Semester 1, 2016 close 30th November 2015.

Information session dates:

  • Wed 13th May, 12.30-1.30pm (last for Semester 2, 2015 entry information)
  • Tues 15th September, 11.30am-12.30pm
  • Wed 14th October, 12.30-1.30pm
  • Wed 11th November, 4.30-5.30pm

Venue: Office for Environmental Programs meeting room, Ground Floor, Walter Boas Building (163) find us
REGISTER your attendance and see you there!

The OEP Team

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