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Thursday 1 March 2018 2:51pm

Winning departments … Representatives from this year's top departments for fostering postgraduate research culture (from left) large department (30+ postgraduate students) joint winners Gerry Closs (Zoology) and Daniel Kingston (Geography), and small department (fewer than 30 postgraduate students) winners Margaret Currie and Linda Kerr (Christchurch Pathology & Biomedical Science). Photos: Sharron Bennett.

The three Otago departments which this week won awards for fostering postgraduate research culture share a common approach: they make their postgraduate students a priority.

The Departments of Geography and Zoology shared this year's award for promoting postgraduate research culture within a large department, while Christchurch campus' Department of Pathology and Biomedical Science won the prize for doing so within a small department.

The Heads of all three winning departments say their departments were thrilled to win.

A reflection on all staff

Head of the Department of Pathology and Biomedical Science, Professor Martin Kennedy says the award acknowledges the long-term efforts of everyone in his department, from the supervisors to the administrative team, as well as the students.

"All staff take great pride in the achievements of our postgraduate students - our postgrads constantly amaze us and exceed expectations over and over again."

Head of the Department of Geography, Professor Michelle Thompson-Fawcett, agrees.

“Our academic, administrative and technical staff all make really significant contributions to the experience and support of our postgraduate students,” she says. “Much of the work is not particularly visible to the University but makes all the difference to the quality of the learning and research environment. To have it recognised in this formal way is a very positive piece of feedback for all our staff members.”

Meanwhile, Head of the Department of Zoology, Professor Gerry Closs, says receiving the award is a great honour, and reflects the efforts and genuine care for each other, amongst staff and students, that is part of the culture of the Department of Zoology.

“All staff take great pride in the achievements of our postgraduate students - our postgrads constantly amaze us and exceed expectations over and over again.”

Make postgraduates part of the team

Each of the winning departments works hard to ensure their students are welcomed and made to feel part of the team – from holding a postgraduate orientation day at the beginning of each year, to providing quality and welcoming spaces for students to work in, to inviting postgraduate participation in departmental seminar sessions, to creating social events like bake-offs and happy hours, and ensuring students' achievements are acknowledged and celebrated.

It can be as simple as making the tea room a welcoming place for postgraduates, Professor Closs says, particularly in a large department where people can become isolated in research groups.

“That's fine if someone happens to be in a large group and has plenty of support around them. However, it can be very isolating for a student in a smaller research group - it's very easy to become lost in a large department. It is important to bring people together, which includes maintaining quality social space, and encouraging people to use it.”

About the awards

The awards, now in their second year, were created by the Graduate Research Committee to help foster research culture for postgraduates within departments. They were presented during the Vice-Chancellor's annual postgraduate garden party, which was held at Abbey College on Monday afternoon.

Professor Kennedy thanks the Doctoral Office for establishing the awards.

“Bringing the application together was a good chance to reflect on our processes and culture, and to think about areas we might wish to further develop.”

Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne chats with Otago's new postgraduate students at her annual garden party on Monday afternoon.

The Vice-Chancellor's Garden Party

The Vice-Chancellor's Garden Party is held for all postgraduates who have begun their studies in the past 12 months.

In her speech on Monday afternoon, Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne spoke of her own time as a postgraduate student.

She told the students how important they are, not only to the University, but to the subjects they are specialising in.

Despite cold weather, the party was very successful, giving students from across the University's Divisions an opportunity to get to know one another better.

Students enjoy the Vice-Chancellor's Garden Party on Monday afternoon.

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