Dear UCT postgraduate students and supervisors
The first semester of 2023 is rapidly drawing to a close – I hope that it has been a stimulating semester for each of you in which you have been able to really immerse yourself in and enjoy your postgraduate studies and to make good academic progress. UCT has lots to offer – in experiences, support directly related to your studies, people of varied skills and expertise to interact with, and more broadly. I recommend you embrace this and ensure that you experience the richness of UCT’s academic environment within and beyond your specific discipline, through for example, attending departmental and interest seminars, inaugural lectures, VC lectures, student competitions and forums and the like, as time permits.
All of this said, many postgrad students will find some part of their postgraduate studies quite challenging; it can be a tough and sometimes lonely road to reach your stretch target, especially for those of you who are expected to work independently and manage your own time and over those periods when your findings are not following expectations – remember that many of you are doing something completely new! Your supervisor or supervisory team, mentor and fellow students can form a good support network here – reaching out when the going gets tough is always valuable.
Certainly, you can be assured that the hard work will pay off – surveys conducted by the Careers Service repeatedly show UCT graduates are considered highly employable. And beyond that, your learnings – within your discipline and life lessons – will stand you in good stead and prepare you to be an active contributor to and a valuable member of society.
Whether you are really enjoying your studies or finding them challenging or the combination of enjoying being intellectually stretched, keeping on track with your postgraduate studies and graduating on time is key. The benefits of this are many, keeping you motivated and ensuring the new knowledge you generate is timeous. I urge you all to take guidance from your supervisor and to stay on track, both in terms of content and timelines.
Progressing in the first year of research
For our full-time research students who registered in 2023, you should ideally have made good progress with setting the goals of your research study and with the literature review. With your research plan taking shape, you are probably, or should soon be, entering the data collection stage. For coursework students, I hope that the assessment phase of your coursework has gone well and wish those of you still in the process the best of luck. If you have not done so already, it is time to get serious about choosing your dissertation topic. Many of you are working outside of the university while you complete your postgraduate studies; here I recommend a careful scheduling of your time to dedicate to your studies to enable you to stay on track. While studying part-time is more challenging, know that you are not alone. Many of our postgraduate students are doing this and I encourage you to make use of the resources available to you (listed below) to progress well and stay connected to the community of postgraduates.
Getting ready to submit your research dissertation or thesis
For those of you planning to submit your thesis or dissertation this year, well done on getting to this milestone. It is important to identify when the scope of your study is met. Be sure to submit your Intention to Submit documents at least six weeks before submission of your thesis or dissertation – this triggers the appointment of examiners and time is needed to decide on them, approach them for willingness to exam and to allow time for the formal appointment of the examiners. Having this all completed before submission will lead to a faster turnaround time on examination of your dissertation or thesis.
As you write up your thesis or dissertation, consider which aspects of your research you would like to publish as a journal paper and discuss this option with your supervisor. More and more PhD students are including already published papers in their theses. This is a good practice as it is best to publish timeously. In addition, already published work on your CV does make it easier to secure a postdoctoral fellowship, research job or academic post. Please remember that it is necessary to request permission to include papers and already published content in your thesis – for more information on this you can download the guide from the Doctoral Degrees Board webpage.
Oral exam included in the PhD examination process: pilot project under way
We are also very excited to have launched our pilot to include an oral exam in the PhD examination process. This allows the PhD candidate to present and defend their thesis directly with examiners, alongside the examination of the thesis itself. The oral exam creates an opportunity for the discussion of your work with experts. It also allows for any misunderstandings to be worked through directly. We anticipate the oral exam will shorten the examination phase. Currently it is an opt-in pilot and can only benefit you over the current examination process.
* If you are interested in volunteering for the pilot, consult your supervisor and email firstname.lastname@example.org. We hope to mainstream the PhD oral exam by the end of 2024.
Quick tip#1: Apply for funding for 2024 now
For those of you continuing into 2024, now is the time to look at your funding options. Most funding applications need to be submitted shortly after midyear and during the third quarter of the year preceding your intended postgraduate study. Keep a close eye on the Postgraduate Funding notice board for funding opportunities and reach out to the Postgraduate Funding Office for help and advice. Some key opportunities and dates to watch out for include the call for funding from the Mastercard Foundation to fund postgraduate studies, which has just opened with a closing date of 31 July, as well as the NRF master’s and doctoral funding, already open, with a closing date of 30 June.
We have created an infographic to explain the process of applying for and accessing UCT financial aid with FAQs on whether you are eligible.
Quick tip#2: If you get stuck with writing, ask for help
Writing is a key part of the postgraduate research journey. It is very valuable to build a writing culture right from the start of postgrad work. Building the habit of writing a little bit every day is highly recommended – a good target is 500 words a day, which is a little more than twice the text of this quick tip!
UCT offers various forms of writing support tailored for different stages of this journey, from department- and faculty-level support to various offerings. These include the Office for Postgraduate Studies as well as its comprehensive list of resources, and UCT Libraries. Please look at what could be useful to you here.
In 2023, UCT launched a new, cross-faculty programme, tailored specifically as “writing for completion” for students who are four to five months from completion or drafting a comprehensive chapter or paper, and who have already made some inroads into their writing process. This is an intensive, 12-week programme focusing on writing craft and practices for regular writing. Students write daily with others, with support from a writing facilitator, and in ongoing conversation with supervisor(s). Details of the 2023 second semester programme will be communicated via faculties. Participation requires support from a student’s supervisor(s) prior to and during the programme. For further information, complete the following online form.
Quick tip#3: UCT has many online resources available for postgraduate students – make use of them
As postgrad study is largely driven by you as an individual, being able to find additional resources and to access inputs to supplement those of your supervisory team is very useful. UCT offers several excellent resources to keep our students up to date and provide necessary support. Here is an overview of some of these:
I wish you all the best for the second half of 2023 and urge you to make the most of the opportunities offered by UCT to support you through the postgraduate process.
Professor Sue Harrison
Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Internationalisation
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