If you we’re anything like me, you know what you want to do, you know what undergraduate course you need to take… but what next?
Every course has a variety of post-graduate options to undertake. For fields like Zoology, this is an almost mandatory step. It can be really really difficult to get a job straight out of a Bachelor degree. You lack one very important thing: experience.
You’ve learnt the theory, you’ve done some field work, but you’ve never run your own research project.
A post-graduate degree is a great way to get some hands on experience in your chosen field. You can of course choose a coursework post-graduate degree to further your expertise in your field. Or you can follow the research path and undertake a project researching something no one has ever looked at before. This can prepare you for doing your PhD, or it can give you the skills you require to enter your chosen field.
In the same way your undergraduate course (and indeed the 13 years of education prior to this) teach you not just the content, but how to learn – a post-graduate degree teaches you not only how to conduct a single research project, but will give you skills you will use for the rest of your life.
What does it involve?
Some science streams differ slightly, so I will talk predominantly of my experiences in Zoology.
If you go for the research stream, you will work with a supervisor (usually a lecturer from your department) on a research project. This can be both lab or field based (or both!).
Some science streams still offer Honours, which is a one year research project. But many are moving towards Masters instead: Zoology being one of them. I was originally a Masters skeptic, but I am now the converted!
Masters involves me doing a research project over two years alongside 125 points of coursework (subjects are usually worth 12.5 points – so this means 6 subjects) . This allows me to study relevant subjects to my fieldwork, as well as the opportunity to extend my knowledge into areas I haven’t been able to in my Zoology degree. In addition, you can utilise the connections the University has with other institutions in that field in a way you would be unable to independently. In my case, these are institutions like Museum Victoria, Zoos Victoria, Department of Sustainability and Environment and the Commonwealth Scientific Research Organisation, amongst others.
The greatest advantage I’ve found is that, by extending the research project over two years, you get so much more time to think about your project, rather than rushing headlong into it. This translates to a stronger experimental design, as well as a greater shot at a publication (yes, your research will in all likelihood be published in a scientific journal!). As well as that, you can also make time to work a day job during Masters unlike Honours – which for myself was what made the decision for me.
My Masters Experience
I am doing a Master of Science, Zoology stream. I am 3 months into my Masters degree, and I love it. It is extremely full on and requires a lot of dedication and careful time management – something your undergraduate degree will give you plenty of. The coursework is amazing: in one subject I spent every second Tuesday on a field trip to everywhere from Serendip Wildlife Sanctuary to Phillip Island Nature Park, going behind the scenes and hearing from the professional scientists and wildlife managers employed there all about what goes on there and the broader implications for managing wildlife. In another, we’re learning how to effectively communicate science to our colleagues and to members of the public alike. Later in the year I will get to refine my skills in statistics and learn animal ethics in more depth.
My research project involves understanding the ways in which brushtail possums use nest boxes. We don’t really know if animals use nest boxes out of desperation, or if they are actually suitable homes for wildlife. In some cases, they may be doing more damage than good! I will be using a combination of captive trials, field work and computer modelling to look at the ways temperature and the risk of predation influence a possum’s choice of nest box. If all goes well, the results will increase our understanding of brushtails’ biology, as well us helping us to understand what influences nest box choice across a variety of different animals. It will help us understand how brushtails may respond to climate change, as well as to deter possums from nesting in people’s rooftops. It’s all very exciting!
But the real goldmine lies in the fact that, after my Masters degree, I will be equipped with a whole new set of skills that I will be able to carry not only into my PhD, but into the rest of my professional life. I will make a network connections with academics and fellow students alike, many of whom will be my colleagues in future. I think that’s an endpoint worth striving for!
If you’re interested in finding out more about graduate opportunities, the entry requirements, and what is available in your favourite stream: check out the Melbourne Graduate School of Science page.