The University of Otago is very proud of its tradition of high quality postgraduate education. Research quality is an important contributor to this tradition.
It is often not realized by the general public that postgraduate students perform a significant proportion of the original research carried out in universities. This reflects the partnership between postgraduate students and their supervisors. When academic staff start their careers, most of them have been postgraduate students themselves no more than a few years earlier, which means that they are very familiar with the experiences of postgraduate students, both good and bad. I was fortunate to be supervised through my PhD at the University of East Anglia in the U.K. by a then young lecturer, Peter Liss. When I finished in 1977, I had learnt an enormous amount from Peter about supervision of students and I was able to put that into practice when I took up my position at Otago in 1979. We remain friends to this day.
In the early years of their careers, academics perform a great deal of their research personally, and it sometimes takes a while for the size of their research group to build up. As this happens, they have less time for personally doing research – ironically because of the time demands of supervision. But this is quite natural, and indeed efficient, because it results in a robust process for both creating original research findings and training new students in the art of research, very little of which can be learned from a book.
I have been a supervisor of postgraduate students at this University for over 35 years. With the benefit of hindsight, I see many similarities between being a supervisor and being a parent or grandparent. I take great delight in the success of my students, even long after they have graduated and moved on in their careers. It is always a pleasure to celebrate their successes and to feel proud of playing a part in their growth as individuals. It is not a matter of teaching them what to do, or what to think, but of providing them with the environment that will unleash their talents.
For this reason, the relationship that you will have with your future research supervisor is an extremely important one. If you find yourself wondering about whether a particular academic might be the right supervisor for you, simply ask some of their current postgraduate students. In my career, which has involved about 90 postgraduate students, current students have always been my best advertisement.
Should you decide to take up postgraduate study for the first time, or return for more, I wish you the very best with your studies. I am confident that you will find it an enriching and even life-changing experience.
Professor Keith Hunter
Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Division of Sciences