JCU has several methods of systematically capturing the experiences of Higher Degree by Research (HDR) candidates' research education.
Every year recent graduates are invited to complete the Postgraduate Research Experience Questionnaire (PREQ), which is part of a nation-wide Australian Graduate Survey owned by Graduate Careers Australia.
In even numbered years, JCU HDR candidates are invited to undertake an online survey based on the PREQ (the PREQ Survey). Individual candidates or their advisors are not identified through this process.
In odd numbered years, candidates are invited to participate in focus groups conducted by an expert consultant who is independent of the GRS.
Statistical comparisons between the 2011-2013 JCU PREQ data and the 2013 national averages revealed that JCU graduands mostly reported satisfaction levels similar to or better than the 2013 national average, although the results were less positive than those reported over the period 2010-2012.
Significant exceptions to the overall positive result for 2013 included satisfaction of HDR candidates on the intellectual climate scale among, (1) part-time students, (2) those aged 40 years and above, and (3) within the fields of Health and Society and Culture. Apart from the significant decline in satisfaction on the intellectual climate scale the Society and Culture field of research also exhibited significant declines in, (1) infrastructure, and (2) overall satisfaction. The only other significant declines occurred within Management and Commerce for the (1) supervision and (2) overall satisfaction scales.
The time series of intellectual climate satisfaction of JCU graduands between 2006 and 2013 compared to the sector average showed an overall decline in the JCU mean from 2010 to 2013. However, the decline was not statistically significant and the national mean was always within the error bars of the JCU results. Nonetheless, these results are of concern in light of parallel declines in the summary results.
Overall, themes were largely consistent with 2011 research in which focus groups and interview participants spoke of their positive and supportive advisory experiences, their enthusiasm for their research, and the opportunities they were grateful for, such as conferences, networking and fieldwork. Key negative factors included administrative procedures, advisor accessibility and some discipline specific resources and facilities.
When discussing advisory experiences, doctoral candidates valued the supportive, personal, flexible and responsive characteristics of ‘good’ advisors. Positive experiences were supported by regular communication, enthusiasm, expertise and the networking opportunities advisors provided. Factors that detracted from satisfaction with advisor support included lack of communication or access.
In terms of general institutional supports and facilities, library and information technology support were positive. Some policies and procedures were seen as prohibitive or inefficient, including travel procedures, dedicated suppliers, paper-based finance procedures and repetitive casual employment procedures. HDR candidates also called for more interdisciplinary collaboration. International HDR candidates provided positive feedback about the Skills for International Postgraduates (SKIP) Program though additional networking for postgraduate students was desirable. There was perception that most international support is ‘geared towards undergrads’.
Off-campus (external) students considered their advisors were accessible and flexible, and the GRS provided good communication. They recommended improved access to online skills development workshops and materials through real-time participation online or uploaded recordings and resources. Some internal students also mentioned more flexible access to such resources.
The roles and responsibilities of the GRS largely received positive feedback. Students commended the range of workshops and the writing support offered. Communication is perceived to have improved in recent years and GRS staff members are seen as responsive to students’ needs. Initiatives such as the GRS Update newsletter were welcomed. However, communication could be improved further. Engaging HDR candidates with staff and undergraduate students as part of a scholarly community remains a significant issue, which is consistent with 2011 research.