I am a fourth year biomedical science student therefore this means I am completing honours at FedUni this year.
But what is honours and a PhD?
Honours is a fourth year that has a research focus. It is generally completed by students who did very well in their undergrad and are interested in getting to the research field after graduation. Some degrees have honours embedded in them, such as Engineering, and therefore must be completed to be awarded your degree. It can also be undertaken to improve a student’s employability or experience.
A PhD is a 3-4 year long research position at the university. When this is completed, you are awarded with the Doctor of Philosophy (hence PhD) in your area of research, such as science, information technology, business, etc. Most lecturers and course coordinators have a PhD showing that they have extensive knowledge in their field.
After graduation, I couldn’t decide what to do or be, so I thought I’d give research a try. I have always been told two things to consider when undertaking a research project. These are: only take on honours or a PhD if you like the project and like the supervisor.
Good project + good supervisor = good research year
This seemed straightforward, so this is exactly what I did when signing up to honours. I love my project, especially its potential to contribute to lowering lung cancer mortality. I also really like my supervisor. His approach to research is very optimistic yet calculated. This matched with his passion for making positive change is infectious. With this perfect pair what could go wrong?
Well something must have been missing from this equation, because I have struggled more this year than I did in all of my undergrad. This is not unheard of, as honours is a tough year, which is why they only let high-achieving students take it on. But I found my biggest problem has been finding motivation to continue. This was a surprise, as finding motivation has never been a struggle of mine. I love learning from studying at uni, like learning about the diseases that affect the human body, or learning new skills like downhill skiing (super fun but tricky without lessons).
For a while I was confused why I was having such trouble, considering I still loved my project and supervisor. What I never considered was that there was a third factor to the equation: you have to like research itself to enjoy honours. This, of course, is hard to learn going into honours, so if you get a chance do to a research project in your undergrad or some work experience in research, do it and let it help you make the decision to continue with research or not. I have created the ‘should I do honours’ pyramid (below) for your convenience and would like to put it forward for you to consider before signing yourself up to honours or PhD.
What I have learnt about honours this year is that it is hard work but can be very rewarding. If you are interested in adding knowledge to your field and improving today’s technology to bring us into the future, research might be the way to go. But please consider the ‘should I do honours’ pyramid.
I have stuck to it and am very proud of my dedication to my goals and persistence to see this year through. This year has definitely tested me but also definitely allowed me to grow my personal skills. Looking back, I do not regret doing honours and if I could change my decision to undertake it, I wouldn’t. It’s experience like this that allows me to learn what I want to do and how I want to contribute to society. I will never wonder what it would be like to do research because I have learnt and know it’s not for me right now.
I wish you the best of luck with all these kinds of decisions!
(AKA one of the cheery faces at the Mt Helen ASK desk 2016).