My experience as a Sport postgraduate research student at ARU: Lessons learned and insights gained

Andie Riches

Faculty: Science and Engineering
School: Psychology and Sport Science
Category: Sport

12 June 2024

Postgraduate research student Andie reflects on what she's learned so far in her Sport research programme, and what it would have been helpful for her to know before she started.

Embarking on the journey of postgraduate research is a decision laden with excitement, curiosity, and a fair amount of uncertainty. As I enter my final year of research, reflecting on my time as a postgraduate research student, I have come to appreciate the multidimensional nature of this experience.

The journey has been and continues to be rich with discoveries, not just in my area of study, but also about myself, the academic world, and the intricate balance of determination and adaptability required to succeed. Here, I will share some of my experiences, the lessons I’ve learned, and the insights I wish I had before stepping into this labyrinth of knowledge and research.

The reality of research: what I learned

1. The art of independent learning

One of the most significant transitions from undergraduate to postgraduate studies is the shift from structured learning to self-directed research. As a postgraduate student, I had to embrace the responsibility of steering my research direction, setting my own deadlines, and seeking out resources independently. This autonomy was both empowering and daunting.

The University Library, with its extensive subject-specific resources and dedicated support staff, was invaluable in this regard. I learned to navigate the vast array of academic journals, databases, and reference materials available, and I frequently sought help from the library's research support team. These experiences taught me to be resourceful, proactive, and self-motivated skills that are invaluable beyond academia.

2. The importance of a good supervisor

A supportive and knowledgeable supervisor can be crucial to a successful research journey. I was fortunate to have a team of mentors who provided guidance, constructive criticism, and encouragement.

Regular meetings with my supervisors helped me stay on track and refine my research objectives. I learned the importance of choosing a supervisor whose expertise aligns with my research interests and who is committed to supporting my academic growth.

3. Time management and discipline

Postgraduate research demands a high level of discipline and effective time management. Balancing research, coursework, and personal life required meticulous planning. I adopted various productivity tools and techniques, such as the Pomodoro Technique and Gantt charts, to organise my tasks and manage my time efficiently.

For those looking for additional support, Study Skills Plus is an excellent resource available to all ARU students. They offer assistance with research and referencing, academic writing skills, organisational skills, numeracy skills, academic English language skills, and even setting up study groups. This service can be incredibly helpful for students striving to meet deadlines and maintain steady progress in their research.

4. Resilience in the face of setbacks

Research is inherently unpredictable, and setbacks are inevitable. Whether it was an interview that didn’t go as planned, an abstract that got rejected, or patterns that didn’t align with my expectations, I faced numerous challenges. These taught me resilience and the importance of maintaining a positive outlook. Each was a learning opportunity, pushing me to refine my methods and think creatively to overcome obstacles.

5. The power of collaboration and networking

While research can often feel like a lonely endeavour, collaboration and networking are essential. Engaging with fellow researchers, supervisors, attending conferences, and participating in workshops opened up new perspectives and opportunities. These interactions not only enriched my research, but also helped me build a professional network that I believe will support my future career aspirations.

What I wish I'd known before starting

1. The scope of the literature review

I underestimated the time and effort required for a thorough literature review. Diving into existing research to identify gaps and establish a theoretical framework was more exhaustive than I had anticipated.

Despite the initial overwhelm in year one, this task proved to be incredibly useful. Understanding the breadth of my field early on helped me build a solid foundation for my research and allowed me to engage more deeply with my topic. In retrospect, allocating sufficient time for this crucial step would have eased the process, but the knowledge I gained was invaluable for guiding my subsequent research.

2. The emotional rollercoaster

The emotional highs and lows of postgraduate research were more intense than I expected. The excitement of breakthroughs often alternated with the frustration of dead-ends. Acknowledging the emotional aspect of research and developing coping mechanisms, such as mindfulness and regular exercise, would have better prepared me for this aspect of the journey.

3. The importance of work-life balance

It’s easy to become consumed by research, but maintaining a healthy work-life balance is vital for long-term productivity and well-being. Setting boundaries, taking breaks, and engaging in hobbies can prevent burnout and keep the mind fresh and creative.

4. Funding and financial management

Navigating funding opportunities and managing finances is a critical aspect of postgraduate research that is often overlooked. Understanding the funding landscape, applying for grants and scholarships, and budgeting effectively are skills that would have eased financial stress and allowed me to focus more on my research.

Additionally, working with ARU Temps provided a valuable source of income that helped me manage my finances more effectively. The flexible work opportunities offered by ARU Temps were not only financially beneficial but also allowed me to gain practical experience and skills that complemented my academic work.

Would these insights have helped?

Absolutely. Having this foresight would have made my journey smoother and less stressful.

However, the process of discovery and the challenges faced along the way were also integral to my growth as a researcher and an individual. While prior knowledge could have mitigated some difficulties, the experiences themselves taught me resilience, adaptability, and critical thinking - qualities that I believe are essential for any researcher.

Advice for prospective postgraduate researchers

1. Choose your supervisor wisely. Look for someone whose research interests align with yours and who has a good track record of mentoring students. A supportive supervisor can make a significant difference to your research experience.

2. Develop a research plan. Start with a clear research question and a tentative plan. Be flexible and ready to adapt as your research progresses.

3. Engage with the academic community. Attend conferences, join research groups, and network with peers. Collaboration can lead to new insights and opportunities.

4. Prioritise self-care. Maintain a balance between your research and personal life. Take care of your physical and mental health to sustain long-term productivity.

5. Seek professional development. Take advantage of training sessions and workshops offered by your institution. Building skills in writing, presenting, and grant applications will benefit your academic and professional career.

Embarking on postgraduate research is a journey of intellectual and personal growth. By being prepared, staying resilient, and embracing the learning process, you can navigate the challenges and make the most of this transformative experience.

Andie is researching for a PhD in ARU's School of Psychology and Sport Science. Find out more about this and other PhD programmes in our postgraduate research section.


The views expressed here are those of the individual and do not necessarily represent the views of Anglia Ruskin University. If you've got any concerns please contact us.