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-box 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.