Getting a head start in research

Working with student, Tan Hooi Teng, to prepare samples to be viewed under the microscope.
Working with student, Tan Hooi Teng, to prepare samples to be viewed under the microscope.

Having the necessary thinking and planning skills required to complete a research project is a great advantage for any student about to make his or her mark in the world, regardless of the discipline of study or industry.

As a research-led teaching university and in its endeavour to further encourage students to embark on research work, the School of Science at Monash University Sunway campus is offering third-year students a research component as an elective unit which runs for one semester, or 12 weeks.

Students who meet the academic criteria and qualify to take on this research unit are given a chance to look at the different research topics offered, and then to talk to their assigned supervisors before deciding on their topic of choice, said Dr Siow Lee Fong, unit co-ordinator for the third-year research units (first semester and the summer break program).

While there are no exams throughout the semester, students have to go through a series of assessments, including two oral presentations and two reports, all to be done individually.

“Most science students think that they’ve been adequately exposed to research work as from the first year, they work in laboratories for their practical,” said Dr Siow.

“But they don’t realise that lab work is not research, because in the lab you are given everything and merely follow instructions. Research requires a lot of independent thinking and figuring things out on your own,” she said.

“With this research unit, the students will really get to apply what they have learnt in the lectures. They get a hands-on feel on what research is all about as they embark on their research topic with supervision from a lecturer. They will learn not only practical skills, but soft skills, too, like time management, problem-solving and critical thinking,” she said.

Dr Siow acknowledged that the research unit was “a lot of work”, but said the fruits of the students’ labour would go a long way in their future.

“Some of our students even get to publish a paper as a result of their work in this one semester. This is a big boost especially for those who want to go into the research line later,” she said.

For those who plan to work in the corporate world, the skills acquired from the research component are equally priceless, she said.

“Students will be building up soft skills to prepare them for the workforce, regardless of where they’re working.”

To further encourage its students to sign up for this research unit, the School of Science started offering this elective during the summer break from December to February.

“Because there are no other classes during summer break and students could focus solely on their research, the summer break research program has been very popular since its inception in 2011,” said Dr Siow.

In the same year, the School of Science also took further steps to encourage the research culture amongst its students by offering a non-credited summer research programme for its second year students.

“Because this is non-credited, students don’t have to go through assessments. Their work is more of an informal type of research together with the supervisor.

“This is to allow them to get a taste of what research is all about before they come to their third year, and we hope will encourage them to further embark into research,” said Dr Siow.