Sometimes international students have to finish their thesis in their home countries. Many domestic HDR candidates will spend significant time away from a Usyd campus on research-related travel.
Researching while overseas
Some international students might need to complete revisions to their thesis (post-examination outcome) overseas, or complete their thesis for examination while overseas. Completion offshore might be the solution for an international student who has run out of funds, or is required to return home before they are able to submit.
Counting time away, or completing away
In the language of University policy, periods where a student undertakes HDR degree requirements externally (i.e. not on campus), whether elsewhere in Australia or overseas, is known as “counting time away”. This time includes fieldwork, periods of data collection and conference travel. “Completing away” is when an HDR candidate completes their remaining degree requirements externally, normally outside of Australia or outside of Sydney.
Obligation to inform the Higher Degree Research Administration Centre (HDRAC)
The University requires HDR candidates to keep HDRAC updated about where you intend to complete degree requirements (location of candidature) and if you want to take time off from your studies (leave from candidature). It is HDRAC’s responsibility to ensure you comply with all administrative procedures when completing away or counting significant periods away overseas.
Your first obligation is to get your research supervisor’s approval. When a candidate is not able to submit within time, or their scholarship runs out, approval is generally granted for offshore completion. Other times, you will need to discuss with your supervisor significant personal circumstances, such as the need to care for family members back home. Don’t avoid facing these matters before they impact adversely on your thesis completion timeline.
See also: Dealing with Life Problems
If you will be undertaking Offshore Candidature, address the following factors well before your departure date:
- Supervision arrangements. Try to have clear discussions with each of your supervisors about communication, feedback and support once you’re overseas. How often can you expect to hear from them?
- Communication channels. Decide on the best method of communication with your supervisors; email, phone and video calls are all options.
- Internet access. In many parts of the world internet access can be inconsistent or prohibitively expensive. The University currently provides no assistance with the costs of internet access outside of its campuses. We suggest if you can’t get sufficient internet access through your place of employment in your home/destination country, try to see if volunteering at an NGO or community organisation in your research area can provide you with access.
- Contact points. It’s important to give your supervisory team alternate contact details in case they have trouble reaching you by the usual channels. Don’t forget to update the University’s records with your contact details as well.
- Collaborators, co-authors, group and lab members, and research participants. Your supervisors and University administration aren’t the only people who might need to get in touch with you while you’re away. Let your research network know your travel plans before potential phone or internet issues come up. If you’re used to communicating via social media or forums, check whether your home/destination country permits use of these channels. If your preferred app is banned, decide on alternatives before you leave.
- Presentations and other non-thesis tasks while away. Your supervisors or research sponsors may have connections with researchers or research centres in your home/destination country. While this can be great for networking and post-degree job opportunities, this is not great if your co-ordinating supervisor suddenly wants you to present something (e.g. a paper, poster or seminar), while you’re overseas. Discuss with your supervisor or research sponsor whether there is likely to be any non-thesis work they want you to complete while you’re away.
- Completion timeline. If your possible submission date is likely to be affected by changing the location of your candidature, especially to somewhere outside of Australia, make sure you re-adjust your progress plan and submission date. Seriously reflect on your personal circumstances and avoid underestimating how much more time you need to complete your degree. It might be stressful to have this conversation with your supervisors, but it is best if everyone is clear about their expectations. If you are later asked by the University to Show Good Cause (see also: Show cause and exclusion for HDR candidates) your supervisors might be more willing to give their continued support of your candidature if there were clear and thorough discussions of how much work you realistically had left to complete.
- Weekly timetable. If you return to your home country but still have to complete your thesis for examination, it’s likely that your scholarship has run out. This means you will need to find time to finish your writing, find a job, and to work. You will need to contemplate in very realistic and practical terms how many quality hours each week you will be able to devote to finishing your thesis. Before you leave, read the University’s resources for time management.
- Financing your studies. If you’re an international student who is ‘completing away’, and you’re no longer receiving a Usyd Scholarship, you will still be charged the normal rate of onshore international student fees (calculated per research period). This places a huge burden on international students to quickly find paid employment and other scholarships. Start your search for other funding before you head overseas. Ask researchers in your field if they know of funding, and if they can connect you with research centres that might need staff. Start your job search before you leave by reaching out to your social networks. Search for job seeker apps or job boards that have opened up since the last time you lived back home.
- Compliance issues. If you’re an international student who needs to discontinue your candidature and then re-enrol when you are ready to submit, you can consult migration agents/lawyers if you have questions about visa implications. If you have questions about a new Confirmation of Enrolment (eCoE), make an appointment with of the University’s compliance officers while you’re still in Sydney.
- Desk, equipment, library access. Tie up any loose ends relating to on-campus resources. Inform the relevant administrative unit that you don’t need your allocated desk anymore (as there could be a waiting list of HDR candidates needing a desk). Return lab keys and other University equipment relating to your research. Consult with the Library about which of its services you can access while you’re overseas.
- Data storage. You probably have several external drives full of your data, references and thesis chapters kept safe in various places. Going overseas is an opportunity to update your data storage strategy. It is worth considering whether cloud-based solutions are an option for you in your destination country. If your thesis is part of larger group research project; or you’re using very large data sets; or storing data on servers belonging to research institutions other than the University; we recommend you seek advice from:
- Non-University matters. If you’ve been renting in Sydney, make sure you’re aware of your legal rights and obligations when ending a tenancy. Similarly, if you’re involved in any complaints/grievance processes or disputes (e.g. consumer matters, vehicle accidents, relationship breakdowns), make sure you inform the relevant parties of your overseas contact details. Double check you have securely retained all relevant documentation, and confirm deadlines for important actions.
Coping while away
Going overseas can hinder students’ ability to complete their degree requirements on time – especially for students who have to find full-time employment, resume family/carer duties, and manage other issues. These demands can cause significant stress. Before you depart, it might benefit you to consult CAPS’ resources for stress management.
Seeing a counsellor (either on or off campus before you head overseas could also empower you with strategies for dealing with stress that you can use in your everyday life.
SUPRA thanks Mark Tan, Postgraduate Student Assist Officer, Murdoch University Guild of Students for his helpful thoughts on this topic.