Cass Hunter

Indigenous Social Ecological Researcher, Coastal Development and Management Program, CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere

Can you tell me about your experiences as an Research Higher Degree student?

Completing a PhD was a big challenge but at the same time my skills grew immensely. I had such personal growth as I was pushed out of my comfort zone.

What was your pathway into a Research Higher Degree?

My path to a Research Higher Degree was through an Honours program. I did not rush into doing a PhD and spent a year after the Honours year mapping out a project and reflecting on the requirements for undertaking a PhD. After assessing the pro’s and con’s of doing a PhD, I decided to take on the learning adventure attached to a higher research degree. I moved interstate (Queensland to Tasmania) for supervision reasons as I thought being surrounded by experienced researchers was a critical component of a PhD.

What support mechanisms or aspects of university life have contributed to you completing a Research Higher Degree?

My support mechanisms involved supervision from experienced researchers, interactions with other PhD students, advice and reassurance from my mentors, and support from my partner and family. Listening to the journey of other PhD students through sharing an office was valuable as I realised doubt and concern was a part of the journey. I was not based at a university during my PhD studies so university life did not contribute to my completion. I was based off campus in order to be located at marine research laboratories. This meant I overlooked the potential support from a University system.

What advice would you suggest for current Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students contemplating a Research Higher Degree?

My advice is do not rush into doing a Research Higher Degree and try to increase preparedness through self-reflection and scoping. Self-reflection includes assessing: “what is the motivation for doing a Research Higher Degree?”; “what is plan B if plan A isn’t going according to plan?”; and “what are the personal sacrifices for undertaking a Research Higher Degree?”. Scoping questions includes assessing: “what is the availability and experience of supervisors?”; “can the project be completed in the allocated time?” and “is the Research Higher Degree likely to take you on your desired long-term career path?”. Better preparation and ownership of the project design is more likely to set the project off on the right foot and put you in the driver’s seat for overcoming future hurdles.