By Dr Susan Mowbray
Susan is the Academic Literacy Advisor in the Graduate Research School at Western Sydney University working with postgraduate students at all stages of candidature, supporting them to refine and progress their research and writing. Susan’s interests include exploring and supporting doctoral student experiences.
BOOK REVIEW: Postgraduate study in Australia: surviving and succeeding. (2017). Editors: Christopher McMaster, Caterina Murphy, Benjamin Whitburn, Inger Mewburn. New York: Peter Lang
In 2017 I requested that my library buy a copy of Postgraduate study in Australia; surviving and succeeding. I was interested to read it given its focus on the experiences of Australian postgrad students – I was also curious given its protracted birthing process because “no Australian education publisher was interested in supporting students in their own country”.
The idea for this book came originally from Chris McMaster and Caterina Murphy, two academics from New Zealand (NZ). Motivated to offer meaningful advice to NZ PhD students from other NZ PhD students, they asked new graduates/late phase doctoral students for chapters in response to the question “If you could go back in time to when you started your studies, what advice would you give your younger self?” From this, the postgraduate ‘Surviving and Succeeding’ series grew and, in this Australian version, Ben Whitburn from Deakin University and Inger Mewburn from the Australian National University joined the original editors. The Foreword is written by Pat Thomson of the patter blog and the book is organised across five parts: i) Postgrads at work; ii) Learning important lessons; iii) Grounded in Oz: Honouring Indigeneity; iv) Supporting student needs and student aspirations; and v) Backpacks and books.
What makes the book stand out is that all the authors are current or recently graduated Australian PhD students. The authors, across 26 chapters, share their experiences and learning around different aspects of the PhD process. These reflections include managing the practicalities and strategies of the PhD process and navigating financial, psychological, ethical, personal and professional issues during and post candidature. Striking among the wide range of topics are the chapters representing specific, little-discussed issues. These include chapters from members of Aboriginal and Torres Straits communities and considerations of the financial pressures involved in completing a PhD. There is also consideration of disclosing impairment or personal circumstance and maintaining “chronic wellness” during PhD candidature.
I recommend this book to postgraduate students because of its wide appeal and also to supervisors looking for insights into issues that can impact students during candidature. The authors share a wealth of lived experiences likely to resonate with students at any stage of their studies. I also recommend the book because of the sense of collegiality it offers; its informal, accessible format transcends disciplinary, institutional and cultural boundaries. In doing so, it delivers thought-provoking insights and valuable guidance that is grounded in the hindsight of fellow PhD sojourners who have been there, done that – and survived! Bravo to all involved and thank you for your generous and collegial support to the wider PhD community.