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September 10, 2007 | by  | in Opinion |
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Post-grads

I remember my days as a Masters candidate. It’s been a while, but I remember that when I was ushered to see my supervisor, I thought I knew what it took to do graduate study. Man, was I wrong. I had two supervisors. One went on sabbatical (or academic leave) no less than six months after my project started, in the Deep South (or at least, beyond the means of traditional communication like phones and email).

My other supervisor was still around however, and was very helpful and supportive – even if he had to question whether the research was actually going anywhere. Still, he was fun to go drinking with. It was a long process, with constant failures. If you are doing molecular biology, I think you can appreciate how difficult assaying mRNA expression, at intrinsically low levels, is at the best of times. At least once a month, I had to deal with contamination. Having to restart after cleaning everything, remaking reagents and re-sampling just frustrates you. Then, of course, the whole process of figuring out if the results you have actually have any credence, or even relevance. Failure is not something I deal well with, and it’s pretty irritating to see one’s work undermined by inconsistent results. And I should also point out the constant re-writes of my thesis, grammatical errors and rejected inter-loan requests – because not even the University could find some obscure periodical.

It’s at times like these that you rely on a strong support network. I did not have one. I did however have some strong chemical supporters; Jack and Danni. With hindsight, I know now that support wasn’t helpful at all.

This year, I have appreciated how important University support for post-grads is. And more importantly how often, as a provider of support, the University has inconsistent results: a low pass, without honours.

So considering that for some of you studying for exams and such, or even thinking about post-grad study, I do want to provide some sobering thoughts on Victoria and post-grads. Certainly Vic wants to pick up the game in encouraging more graduate study and research on campus. A drop in the PBRF rankings only confirms that Vic have to pull finger. But with all this attention to encouraging staff and students to do more quality research, what’s going on with support for students? Well, not a lot. While the PGSA (Post Graduate Students’ Association), a Representative group that works with VUWSA, achieved a victory with the Minimum Resources Agreement – VUW have not fulfilled their end of the bargain. They will argue that they have had difficulty finding the space for students to have their own desks, but are working on it.

But that’s not very reassuring to those students who still cannot study because they have no dedicated study area, something that is almost commonplace across the country, and indeed the western world.

One story that I can tell is soon after the election, I visited the College of Education and I met two international students who still did not have their own study space. I was flabbergasted. At least I knew I had a place to work in peace while I was doing my research. Why was this such a difficulty? The bottom line is that every day that students cannot get the resources they expect is another day that invites Victoria’s reputation as a world class research institution to crash and burn.

Likewise, the recent effort by ITS to stop the free printing of Graduate printers is just another opportunity to deprive students of even a little support. I stand in solidarity with the PGSA, who have regressively resisted the decision, Meeting with VUW Faculty heads, as well as petitioning for those wanting the decision reversed and a register of those affected. It is also important that post-grads continue to have guarantees of support, and I heartily support the efforts by both VUWSA and PGSA to codify this arrangement with a relationship agreement. It isn’t a “wishy-washy” document, but a genuine attempt to know that, at VUWSA, we cannot do our job without dedicated and well resourced Rep Groups, working with large groups like Graduates. I would hate to imagine graduate study without even that support.

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