About Postgraduate Research
Once you have completed an undergraduate degree you may want to undertake a research masters degree or a research doctorate. This type of study gives you the opportunity to develop highly specialised knowledge and expertise in the research field of your choice.
Postgraduate research differs from postgraduate coursework studies in that it consists of independent research on a specialised topic. If you are looking for information on postgraduate coursework, you can search postgraduate coursework degrees on the Postgraduate Courses page.
Embarking on a postgraduate research degree
If you want to take your professional skills to a higher level, advance your career prospects or pursue your passion for a field of research, then consider a postgraduate research degree. A research masters or research doctorate is a personalised degree in which you undertake a research project mutually agreed upon by you the student and the university.
A research masters will build on the skills and knowledge you developed in your undergraduate degree. Supported by a research supervisor, you can undertake advanced research in your field and develop the skills to apply, and critically evaluate various research methodologies.
Doctorates are the highest level of academic achievement. You will develop advanced skills in research, critical thinking and problem-solving, and contribute to knowledge that benefits industry and the community. To undertake a research doctorate you will be required to complete at least an undergraduate degree plus honours.
Give yourself a few months advance planning time to investigate a research field that interests you as well as what university best suits your research interests and personal needs. If there is a specific topic that you are passionate about, it will naturally influence your choice of supervisor. Alternatively you may have a specific project, university or supervisor in mind. It is recommended to start your search early, finding a supervisor or project can take some time, so you can meet university application deadlines as well as access to funding.
Topic and Supervisor
You will need a rough idea of your research project and at least one confirmed supervisor to apply for a postgraduate research degree at an Australian university. However, you will usually have a few months after commencing your degree to refine your research topic and it is not unusual for project plans to change significantly during this period.
Finding a supervisor and developing a research project
Finding a supervisor and developing a research project usually go hand in hand. Many supervisors will have a specific range of projects available to postgraduate research students and you may choose your supervisor based on the project. Other supervisors are more flexible about projects and you may approach them with an idea and work together with them to develop it into a project.
You will likely need to align your project to your supervisor’s expertise, interests and available funding, at least in part, so if you have a specific project in mind, you may need to be a bit flexible or be prepared to ‘shop around’ to find an appropriate supervisor. Some students will carry straight on from an undergraduate degree to a research degree at the same university because they want to work in a particular field they were exposed to during their undergraduate studies or because they have a supervisor in mind (e.g. an honours supervisor or a favourite lecturer).
Factors you may wish to consider
- what your personal interests and passions are. You need a project that will keep you intellectually engaged for at least two years (for a research masters) or at least three years (for a research doctorate).
- what sort of contribution would you like to make, through your research, to the world we live in? Is there a specific ‘need’ or ‘gap’ you would like to address?
- how might your project affect your employment opportunities? What sort of employment are you seeking?
- potential partners you would like to involve in your research project. These may be other universities, research organisations, industry, Cooperative Research Centres, Centres of Excellence, not-for-profit groups etc. that have a specific interest in the outcomes of your project. If you think there are other organisations worth engaging in your project you should discuss this with potential supervisors. Collaborative projects may be administratively more complex, but can have many research benefits as well as potentially opening doors for you to a broader range of career opportunities in the future.
- opportunities offered by different universities. You may find specific research projects for postgraduate research students advertised by universities and other organisations listed above.
- some industry-focused research projects are available in mathematics and statistics through the Industry Doctoral Training Centre.
Before deciding on supervisors, you should consider:
- what expertise do you already have and what expertise do you need to look for in a supervisor?
- talking with a few prospective supervisors about their styles of supevision and what they expect of their students
- talking to prospective supervisors' current and former students about their experiences
- talking with prospective supervisors about their research interests and prospective topics
- does your supervisor have the networks and connections you need or would like?
- can your supervisor offer you all the support, expertise and linkages you need? You may benefit from having more than one supervisor, particularly if your main supervisor does not have all the expertise you require, or will be frequently unavailable (busy with other students, long-service leave, field work, etc.).
Select supervisors whom you expect will:
- maintain an interest, professional, mutually respectful and supportive supervisory relationship with you throughout the three to four years of your project
- meet with you regularly to discuss your research
- provide ongoing, clear, adequate, good-quality advice on the planning and execution of your research
- provide timely and constructive feedback on all aspects of your work
- guide you through the completion of your degree and into the next stage of your career.
Make contact with potential supervisors
It is common for students considering a research masters or research doctorate to approach potential supervisors in their field of interest to discuss possible projects. This is a very important step in determining what and where to study.
You may approach potential supervisors based on prior experience of working with them, their expertise and experience in your field, their publications, their reputation, or simply a positive recommendation. Many academics provide information online about their research interests, academic credentials and even potential research projects for prospective students.
Meeting with potential supervisors will help you to gain a sense of whether or not you want to work with the person – you are after all considering taking on a multi-year research project under their guidance so it is essential that they are a ‘good fit’ for you both personally and professionally. You may also wish to speak to students who are currently being supervised by them or have been in the past.
Generally you will have at least some idea of the area in which you wish to do research and perhaps a pool of preferred universities based on reputation, location, expertise and other personal and professional factors.
You will need to go to a university’s own website to find information on what fields of research and supervisor expertise are available there. Some universities offer search engines allowing you to search for staff by field of expertise. For other universities, you may be best to go directly to the relevant faculty page. Eight universities have developed a search engine called ‘Australia’s Knowledge Gateway’ allowing you to search for people with specific expertise but you will only find experts based at those universities.
One source of information about the quality of research at Australian universities is the Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) exercise. ERA evaluates the quality of research at Australian universities, by discipline.
Expert review committees undertake ERA evaluations. Drawing on a range of metrics and peer-review data as well as their own disciplinary expertise, the committees assign a quality rating to each discipline within each Australian university. These ratings are subsequently published in a national report.
ERA uses a five-point rating scale that describes the performance of a discipline at a university in relation to world standards.
|Not research active||Well below||Below||World standard||Above||Well above|
ERA is administered by the Australian Research Council. The first round of ERA took place in 2010 and the second round was completed in 2012.
If you would like to know more about ERA, or its methodology, or to read the ERA 2012 National Report, please visit the Australian Research Council website.
To find out about the research quality of your subject, open up the broad discipline groups below and download the PDF. Alternatively, you can search for the ERA 2012 rating of individual disciplines at the Australian Research Council’s Field of Research List.
ERA 2012 ratings
01 Mathematical Sciences
- 0101 Pure Mathematics
- 0102 Applied Mathematics
- 0103 Numerical and Computational Mathematics
- 0104 Statistics
- 0105 Mathematical Physics
- 0199 Other Mathematical Sciences
02 Physical Sciences
- 0201 Astronomical and Space Sciences
- 0202 Atomic, Molecular, Nuclear, Particle and Plasma physics
- 0203 Classical Physics
- 0204 Condensed Matter Physics
- 0205 Optical Physics
- 0206 Quantum Physics
- 0299 Other Physical Sciences
03 Chemical Sciences
- 0301 Analytical Chemistry
- 0302 Inorganic Chemistry
- 0303 Macromolecular and Materials Chemistry
- 0304 Medicinal and Biomolecular Chemistry
- 0305 Organic Chemistry
- 0306 Physical Chemistry (incl. Structural)
- 0307 Theoretical and Computational Chemistry
- 0399 Other Chemical Sciences
04 Earth Sciences
- 0401 Atmospheric Sciences
- 0402 Geochemistry
- 0403 Geology
- 0404 Geophysics
- 0405 oceanography
- 0406 Physical Geography and Environmental Geoscience
- 0499 Other Earth Sciences
05 Environmental Sciences
- 0501 Ecological Applications
- 0502 Environmental Science and Management
- 0503 Soil Sciences
- 0599 Other Environmental Sciences
06 Biological Sciences
- 0601 Biochemistry and Cell Biology
- 0602 Ecology
- 0603 Evolutionary Biology
- 0604 Genetics
- 0605 Microbiology
- 0606 Physiology
- 0607 Plant Biology
- 0608 Zoology
- 0699 Other Biological Sciences
07 Agricultural and Veterinary Sciences
- 0701 Agriculture, Land and Farm Management
- 0702 Animal Production
- 0703 Crop and Pasture Production
- 0704 Fisheries Sciences
- 0705 Forestry Sciences
- 0706 Horticultural Production
- 0707 Veterinary Sciences
- 0799 Other Agricultural and Veterinary Sciences
08 Information and Computing Sciences
- 0801 Artificial Intelligence and Image processing
- 0802 Computation Theory and Mathematics
- 0803 Computer Software
- 0804 Data Format
- 0805 Distributed Computing
- 0806 Information Systems
- 0807 Library and Information Studies
- 0899 Other Information and Computing Sciences
- 0901 Aerospace Engineering
- 0902 Automotive Engineering
- 0903 Biomedical Engineering
- 0904 Chemical Engineering
- 0905 Civil Engineering
- 0906 Electrical and Electronic Engineering
- 0907 Environmental Engineering
- 0908 Food Sciences
- 0909 Geomatic Engineering
- 0910 Manufacturing Engineering
- 0911 Maritime Engineering
- 0912 Materials Engineering
- 0913 Mechanical Engineering
- 0914 Resources Engineering and Extractive Metallurgy
- 0915 Interdisciplinary Engineering
- 0999 Other Engineering
- 1001 Agricultural Biotechnology
- 1002 Environmental Biotechnology
- 1003 Industrial Biotechnology
- 1004 Medical Biotechnology
- 1005 Communications Technologies
- 1006 Computer Hardware
- 1007 Nanotechnology
- 1099 Other Technology
11 Medical and Health Sciences
- 1101 Medical Biochemistry and Metabolomics
- 1102 Cardiovascular Medicine and Haematology
- 1103 Clinical Sciences
- 1104 Complementary and Alternative Medicine
- 1105 Dentistry
- 1106 Human Movement and Sports Science
- 1107 Immunology
- 1108 Medical Microbiology
- 1109 Neurosciences
- 1110 Nursing
- 1111 Nutrition and Dietetics
- 1112 Oncology and Carcinogenesis
- 1113 Ophthalmology and Optometry
- 1114 Paediatrics and Reproductive Medicine
- 1115 Pharmacology and Pharmaceutical Sciences
- 1116 Medical Physiology
- 1117 Public Health and Health Services
- 1199 Other Medical and Health Sciences
12 Built Environment and Design
- 1201 Architecture
- 1202 Building
- 1203 Design Practice and Management
- 1204 Engineering Design
- 1205 Urban and Regional Planning
- 1299 Other Built Environment and Design
- 1301 Education Systems
- 1302 Curriculum and Pedagogy
- 1303 Specialist Studies in Education
- 1399 Other Education
- 1401 Economic Theory
- 1402 Applied Economics
- 1403 Econometrics
- 1499 Other Economics
15 Commerce, Management, Tourism and Services
- 1501 Accounting, Auditing and Accountability
- 1502 Banking, Finance and Investment
- 1503 Business and Management
- 1504 Commercial Services
- 1505 Marketing
- 1506 Tourism
- 1507 Transportation and Freight Services
- 1599 Other Commerce, Management, Tourism and Services
16 Studies in Human Society
- 1601 Anthropology
- 1602 Criminology
- 1603 Demography
- 1604 Human Geography
- 1605 Policy and Administration
- 1606 Political Science
- 1607 Social Work
- 1608 Sociology
- 1699 Other Studies in Human Society
17 Psychology and Cognitive Sciences
- 1701 Psychology
- 1702 Cognitive Sciences
- 1799 Other Psychology and Cognitive Sciences
18 Law and Legal Studies
- 1801 Law
- 1802 Maori Law
- 1899 Other Law and Legal Studies
19 Studies in Creative Arts and Writing
- 1901 Art Theory and Criticism
- 1902 Film, Television and Digital Media
- 1903 Journalism and Professional Writing
- 1904 Performing Arts and Creative Writing
- 1905 Visual Arts and Crafts
- 1999 Other Studies in Creative Arts and Writing
20 Language, Communication and Culture
- 2001 Communication and Media Studies
- 2002 Cultural Studies
- 2003 Language Studies
- 2004 Linguistics
- 2005 Literary Studies
- 2099 Other Language, Communication and Culture
21 History and Archaeology
- 2101 Archaeology
- 2102 Curatorial and Related Studies
- 2103 Historical Studies
- 2199 Other History and Archaeology
22 Philosophy and Religious Studies
- 2201 Applied Ethics
- 2202 History and Philosophy Of Specific Fields
- 2203 Philosophy
- 2204 Religion and Religious Studies
- 2299 Other Philosophy and Religious Studies
To view or print a PDF (Portable Document Format) file, you need to have the Adobe Reader® installed on your computer. You can download a free copy of Adobe Reader® from the Adobe (link opens new window) website.
You can search for information on research student and scholarship numbers for each university by broad field of education.
This information gives you an indication of the quantity of postgraduate research studies being undertaken at each university. Specifically, you will find:
- the number of students doing masters and doctorate (PhD) degrees by research
- the number of Australian Postgraduate Award (APA) scholarships awarded to masters and doctorate (PhD) students
- the number of International Postgraduate Research Scholarships (IPRS) awarded to masters and doctorate (PhD) students.
You can also read about universities’ goals, strategies and priorities for supporting research students in their mission-based compacts. Mission-based compacts describe the mission of each higher education institution and its ambitions for research, research training, innovation, and teaching and learning. Each compact sets out the institution’s plans and priorities for supporting these activities and its performance targets. Specifically the research training information is found in section 7.2 of a compact.
Funding and Resources
Funding and resources are important considerations for prospective research students. Universities, government, philanthropic organisations, industry groups, and a range of private businesses offer scholarships and financial assistance to support research students. You may be eligible for personal financial support and/or project funding.
The funding and resources available are issues to consider when choosing a university and supervisor. It is a good idea to consider and discuss with prospective supervisors what is available to you, the nature of your research, your personal needs and what the university can offer, including whether:
- scholarships or postgraduate awards are available to assist in your living expenses
- resources, equipment, consumables, travel or field work costs are covered and or provided for by the university
- workspace is available, for example: Will you have a desk? Will your workspace/s be dedicated or shared?
- IT resources, telephone and internet access, printing and publication services are available
- you have access to library materials, journal access etc.
- student support services are available (including availability of and access to career advice, counselling, legal services, child care, health services etc.)
Australian Government Scholarships
For information on the full range of Australian Government scholarships and financial assistance for postgraduate research students please refer to the Study Assist website.
The Australian Government’s main two scholarship programs supporting research students are Australian Postgraduate Awards (APA) and International Postgraduate Research Scholarships (IPRS). The scholarships are awarded to students of exceptional research potential who undertake a higher degree by research at an eligible Australian higher education provider.
APA scholarships are awarded to students for exceptional research potential undertaking a Higher Degree Research in Australia. APAs are provided to assist with students' general living costs. Awards are available for a period of two years or a research masters degree or three years, with a possible extension of six months, for a research doctorate degree. Award holders receive an annual stipend to assist with general living costs and may also be eligible for other allowances.
IPRS enable international students to undertake a postgraduate research qualification in Australia and gain experience with leading Australian researchers. Scholarships are open to international students of all countries (except New Zealand) and are available for a period of two years for a research masters degree or three years for a research doctorate degree. The scholarship covers tuition fees and health cover costs for scholarship holders, and health cover costs for their dependents. From 2011, commencing IPRS recipients will be able to apply for an Australian Postgraduate Award (APA).
Individual universities are responsible for managing both the APA and IPRS scholarship processes including application, selection and offers to students. To find out more about how to apply you will need to contact your chosen university directly. Contact details and information about the application process for an APA or IPRS can be found on their website. Many universities also offer other scholarships for research students.
A range of scholarships are further available for Australian students to undertake postgraduate research overseas. For example, the prestigious General Sir John Monash Scholarships , supported by the Australian Government, are for Australian graduates to undertake postgraduate studies abroad at the world’s best universities.
There are numerous employment opportunities for research graduates in both research and non-research roles. Post-study research graduates work in a wide range of organisations across universities, government funded research agencies such as CSIRO, medical research institutes, private companies and other organisations. These include positions in museums, galleries, libraries, herbaria, zoos, not-for-profit groups, private practice, industry groups, political parties and the research and development sections of large companies.
Occupations and sectors in which research graduates are employed are diversifying and only about half of all research graduates are employed in a traditional academic role in a higher education institution. The remainder are dispersed across a wide range of public and private industry employment sectors as employers recognise and value the analytic, research, problem solving and teamwork skills that a research graduate brings to a workplace. A research degree does not limit a graduate to one career path or one field of study, a research career can take you down many pathways.
The Australian Government is keen to support Australia’s research workforce and in 2011 launched a research workforce strategy. For more information see the Department of Industry's website.