Getting Started in Research (College of Science & Engineering)

When given the task of researching something in depth as a postgraduate researcher it can be difficult to know where to begin. Luckily some advice and resources are on hand to help you in getting started with your own research. This post aims to guide you towards feeling comfortable with independent research. It’s packed full of advice from those who have ‘been there and done that’ and points to some useful links for support and other resources that are available at the university. Although this information is mainly aimed at researchers from the College of Science and Engineering, some of the advice may be applicable to other PGRs too. 

A close up view of someone's hands writing in a note-pad.
Christoph Braun 2012 (Wikimedia Commons). Original file here.

Let’s get started with some Top tips from current PhD students:

  • Allow yourself time to settle in and get used to everything. Thinking about the bigger picture is helpful for planning your research from the very beginning. It can also be helpful to set more short term goals than long term goals, I found that this works better for your productivity and ability to feel motivated – Ashwini, School of Mathematics and Statistics.
  • Get to grips with the current literature, this will help you to focus and come up with ideas on how to make progress in your area of research and show you the current techniques that have been used. But, don’t feel that you need to read everything that is out there. Find the papers that everyone references for starters and critically think about what you are reading – Sapphire, School of Geographical and Earth Sciences.
  • Don’t try to read too deeply into a subject as a lot of what you end up reading might not be useful to your research and might delay you in starting your research for real. Also, before you start doing anything in the lab, make sure you ask people how to do anything and ask people how they do it. Sometimes even something that seems straightforward has more to it! By looking at how other people carry things out you will also learn how to work more effectively – Jarosław, School of Engineering.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions. In fact, actively ask questions – ask people about their life and their work, we are all people, and everyone loves to talk about themselves. Also, find a good coffee mug and be super nice to everyone in stores/the janitors/the lab technicians, as they are all really, really, useful people to know – Laura, School of Physics and Astronomy.
  • It’s important to know what everyone’s job is, including your own. For example, it’s your supervisor’s job to help and guide you. It’s important to ask for help if you’re not sure what you’re doing. Also, have a plan, but be ready to adapt it as you go along, and make sure that you take control of your own research – Stuart, School of Physics and Astronomy.

The best thing to do is to just get started – anything that you do in the very beginning related to your research will help in the long run. Your supervisors should also be able to give you advice about the best things to do in the first few months, so don’t be afraid to ask around for help. It’s expected that you will have some questions and need some guidance when you start your research, and throughout your studies, you are certainly not expected to know everything! After all…

“If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?” – Albert Einstein

Resources to help you get started

The College of Science and Engineering Grad School have several training resources that are available to help you in getting started with your research. All of these can be found on MyCampus (Mycampus homepage > My Student Centre > Enrolment (to sign up for training courses) OR My Choices (to check which courses you have signed up for)). Each training course gives you credits, which are required for your annual progression (a compulsory requirement for all PGR students). For example, in the first year of your studies you are required to attain 8 training credits as a full-time student or 4 if you are a part-time student.

One course that will help you in your first few months has been highlighted by Heather Lambie of the Graduate School: PG Essentials – Strategies for a successful start to your PhD. This is an online course which aims to provide new researchers with practical information and skills for getting started with their PhD.

An explanation of the doctoral training research programme (and credit system), along with a link to the full list of training available  for PGR’s of the College of Science and Engineering can be found here.

Other useful links:

www.gla.ac.uk/media/media_381231_en.pdf – the College of Science and Engineering pocket guide: a handy guide with information and advice on getting the most out of your research.

www.gla.ac.uk/studentlife/ – All information you need about student life (as an international or home student), living in Glasgow and all university services, including Library & IT services and Careers support

Post Author: sapphire

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