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ECU’s students SOARing with postgraduate support program

Wednesday, 19 October 2011


A pilot program at ECU to support higher degree by research students in their studies and help them transition to paid employment has proved so successful it is now being replicated at universities in Australia. Institutions in the US have also expressed interest in the ECU model.

In 2009 ECU created the SOAR Centre, providing Support, Opportunities, Advice and Resources for Higher Degree by Research (HDR) students. It aims to address the challenges that students face when they begin a research degree.

In addition to the creation of a physical space on campus for HDR students to study and meet, the Centre has appointed fellow HDR students as ambassadors to provide support for cultural, academic and campus transition.

Graduate Research School Dean, Professor Joe Luca, led the development of the Centre. He said that ECU’s HDR students like many universities, faced difficulties in making the switch from undergraduate studies to research and then onto professional employment.

“We established the SOAR Centre to offer a peer-to-peer support service in research skills training and career development. The aim of the centre is to help HDR students achieve their research goals, feel part of a research community, and successfully move into a professional research career” said Professor Luca.

The Centre employs ten SOAR Ambassadors, (including) two SOAR Ambassador mentors on a casual basis for up to 12 months. This practical experience in the workplace is used by many of the ambassadors as a tool to gain future employment.

Students who have taken on these roles have gone onto receive research assistant positions within academia as well as receive funding grants through the networks they have made.

Victoria University has already replicated the ECU model, with the Australia National University and the University of Western Australia expressing an interest. There has also been a query from the US in developing a similar program.

Development is an ongoing process for the SOAR Centre. In 2012 the centre will offer an online recruitment system. Students will be able to register online for casual research employment opportunities across all Faculties and Service Centres within ECU.

The recruitment system is an innovative approach to helping HDR students build their CV’s and  prepare them for life outside the academic setting,

Mohammed Ahmed, a PhD candidate with the School of Engineering, first utilised the Centre when he started his research. He is now an Ambassador Mentor, working six hours a week supporting HDR students and new SOAR Ambassadors whilst completing his studies.

“I came from Bangladesh where the culture and approach to study is very different. I got in touch with the SOAR Centre as I wanted some guidance on what an Australian university expected from its research students,” Mohammed said.

He said he found the SOAR Centre very useful and regularly made appointments to seek advice and support from an Ambassador.

“Now that I’m an Ambassador, I find the network building and peer support experiences are the key aspects of this job which will be useful for enriching my future career development.”

When Mohammed completes his PhD into materials science and engineering, he hopes to take up a position as a post doctorate Research fellow or an academic within an Australian University.


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