Postgraduate resources to enable completion of your degree

15 January 2024 | Professor Sue Harrison

Dear postgraduate students and academic supervisors

I hope your postgraduate experience – as student or supervisor – at the University of Cape Town (UCT) in 2024 will be successful and satisfying. It is fitting to start the year with some reflection on projects and pilots we have been and continue to champion to support our postgraduate students, as well as to share reminders on timelines and useful resources.

I will highlight five areas:

1. PGFO resources to support finding and processing postgraduate funding

As shared in November 2023 a review of processes and practices within the PGFO has progressed well, allowing a number of key improvements to be made with additional exciting developments on the horizon. Please familiarise yourself with the details in that deputy vice-chancellor (DVC) desk as it provides useful resources to guide your application for funding, it also provides insight into how awards and payments are processed.

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2. The MoU and PPA

The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) or Progress and Planned Activity (PPA) establishes the agreement between student and supervisor. These are important both for the joint planning of your work to assist in keeping you on track (eg, in terms of content and timelines), and in terms of expectation setting. Having shared expectations is key to building a healthy student–supervisor relationship, and unmet expectations are the most common cause of poorly functional relationships between student and supervisor. It is really useful to re-visit the MoU and PPA together at regular points in the year to track progress and to agree to deviations when your findings require it. Finally, the MoU and PPA serve as a point from which to work if things do not go to plan or difficulties arise.

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3. Timeous proposals for research-based qualifications enable research progress

Increasingly, it is recognised that the research proposal forms an excellent tool to shape one’s thinking about the research being embarked on a PhD or master’s, to identify the niche in which you will contribute along with your research questions, and to align and communicate the thinking of student and supervisor to enable effective support. For the PhD, this is expected within six months of embarking on the study, and I would encourage students and supervisors to meet this timeline which we plan to monitor much more rigorously. While not specified across UCT, master’s students should also target timeous completion of a proposal to guide the research, set out a plan and, importantly, provide a framework to define completion. It is more difficult to define a common timeline to satisfy all master’s programmes, owing to their different structures, however I encourage students and supervisors to set this goal right at the start of their interaction.

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4. Writing for timeous completion of the research degree and sharing of your research

We recognise that often a large portion of the time taken to complete the research degree is taken by writing and that writing can be a daunting task – what fraction of people sit down to write a meaningful and well-researched book over the period of a few months? To this end UCT provides many resources to support your writing – through courses and support offered, for example, by the Centre for Higher Education Development (CHED), the university libraries, the Postgraduate Centre and Funding Office, the Writing Centre and many others.

Here are some links:

In 2023, we piloted and launched a programme specifically targeting ‘writing for completion’. The programme aimed to build the skillset for academic writing as well as the discipline for regular, productive writing. This provided a lot of insight into the process, and effective support. It will run again in both semesters of 2024 with further refinement, before we look at how to mainstream the concept.

This first pilot phase emphasises the importance and benefit of compiling a clear storyline, setting aside defined writing time in manageable chunks and drawing on the support of colleagues, amongst other valuable insights.

Also look out for an upcoming webinar to share on this more deeply, and for the call for participants for the first 2024 programme, for students aiming to submit by July 2024. Calls and nominations are made by each Faculty via the deputy deans for Postgraduate Study, with nominations closing in the first week of February. You can find more details and ask questions through the online form.

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5. Key timelines when finalising your thesis or master’s dissertation

For those planning submissions of PhD thesis or master’s dissertations, please ensure that your intention to submit documents are submitted at least six weeks before your dissertation or thesis is submitted, to ensure your examiners are in place as you submit. Also, pay attention to the word limits of your document, be sure that you avoid all forms of plagiarism, leave enough time for processing through Turnitin and be sure that if specific permissions need to be motivated for, such as to include publications verbatim in a PhD thesis or to embargo the thesis for intellectual property, publication or sensitive content reasons, that this has been done well upfront and before submitting.

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As we move past the middle of January and the energy of the postgraduate sector is re-ignited for 2024, I wish you all good progress, impactful research and much success in your postgraduate studies and postgraduate supervision.

With warm regards

Professor Sue Harrison
Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Internationalisation

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