Information for current or potentially new advisors of Honours students

Information for current or potentially new advisors of Honours students

Honours students graduating The Honours program at College of Medicine and Dentistry allows students to learn about research and undertake research later in their professional career. This is an opportunity for students to gain a deeper understanding of how new knowledge is acquired. An Honours degree advances the academic qualifications of MBBS graduates in an increasingly competitive field. The Honours program has a strong focus on learning by doing. Thus, the Honours program depends heavily on the time and effort put in by advisors like you. The College appreciate your effort as an advisor.

The working relationship between advisors and an Honours student is invariably a close one, and requires the commitment of a considerable amount of time by the advisors. Agreeing to supervise a student is often based on a personal, as well as an academic, appraisal and the right to accept or reject a student is solely that of the prospective advisor. It is entirely a discretionary decision.

The Honours course goes over one year (full time) or two years (50%). The outline of the course can briefly be described in 12 steps.

information Advisor involvement in the 12 steps of the Honours course
StepAdvisor involvementComments
1: Pre-Honours applicationYesThis is to plan and describe the project showing that it is worthwhile doing and feasible. A detailed template is given as a guide. The student and advisors collaborate in this step. This is the first hurdle the student must pass.
2: If the pre-Honours application is approved register the project in the University project databaseNormally none (see comment)If the student is doing a small part of a larger ongoing project then this might already be registered in the project database by the advisor. If that is the case then the student should be added as a coworker into this existing registration.
3: Attend a research seminarNone 
4: Submit a final research proposal(Yes)This is required for some students, partly depending on the quality of the pre-Honours application. It is evaluated by the Honours committee.
5: Present the approved project proposal in an Entry seminarYesThe advisor is expected to give comments and support to the student when they prepare their presentation.
6: Student report 1None 
7: Submit a systematic literature reviewYesThe advisor is expected to provide comments on the manuscript once or twice to help the student. Students are also encouraged to follow instructions given at Science Network TV about doing a systematic literature review
8: Student report 2None 
9: Student report 3None 
10: Present the outcome of the project in an Exit seminarYesThe advisor is expected to give comments and support to the student when they prepare their presentation.
11: Student report 4None 
12: Submit a thesisYesThe advisor is expected to provide comments on the manuscript once or twice to help the student. Detailed advice is given in the handbook (below)
information ... but I don't know enough about research methods, statistics and similar topics...

Most students has more than one advisor. They usually complement each other. Reading Student information on how to find advisors (supervisors) below will present the requirements of the combined advisory team. This means that your role might be to have experience in the topic while another advisor is good at research methods. Let us assume that you are a clinician with limited knowledge in research methods. It is the responsibility of the student to find a combination of advisors that fulfill all requirements of the advisory panel.

Assume that you are a clinician that has an idea but not enough knowledge in research methods. Also assume that you would like to find an Honours students to help you turn this idea into a project. In this situation it is a good idea to met up with a local academic staff member and jointly discuss the idea. You can together refine the idea and put it up on the match-making website (more about that in the section How to present research opportunities so students find them below).

It is perfectly OK to rely on your academic counterpart if you feel uncertain about research methodology. You don't have to study any research methodology as long as you have some dialogue with the academic counterpart responsible for this. However, you may find these links useful if you decide you want to brush up your knowledge in research methods:

information The student get a degree but what's in it for the advisor?

Being an advisor does not give you any specific advisory reimbursement. Your reward as an advisors comes in other forms. Let us first clarify that there are three different scenarios:

  1. One option is that the student does one small part of a large project that is already up and running. In this situation a more or less detailed plan for what needs to be done comes from you as an advisor.
  2. Another alternative is that you as an advisor has an idea or a research opportunity for a project not yet up and running. In this situation the final details are planned together with the student.
  3. The third alternative is that the student comes to you with their own idea and need your help to sort out how to realize it. This means that the initiative is all on the student.

The advantages / rewards for you as an advisor is:

  • Most students aim to do a thesis by publication. This means that they strive to create two manuscripts for submission to peer reviewed scientific journals. It is expected that all advisors contribute enough to be co-authors. The student usually becomes the first author. This means that your own CV is likely to get a boost by another 1-2 publications.
  • In the scenario a (and b) above you will get one year of labour work for free. This is a substantial effort put into your ideas.
  • In all scenarios above, but probably more so in scenario c, you are likely to learn quite a lot from the student. They will find other publications and summarize the topic for you. Thus it is a learning experience also for you as an advisor.
  • Irrespective of scenario you are likely to to be involved in interesting discussions that may end up in contacts that all of you gain from for years to come.

Finding an Honours student

An Honours student put in a workload equivalent to one year full time work. Thus, having an Honours student is a great resource to get research projects done that otherwise might not be done. It is therefore important that your ideas for potential projects are visible to the students. You can increase the possibility of students finding you and your potential research opportunities:
information How to present research opportunities so students find them

We have created a match-making website to facilitate the match between students and researchers. We guide the students to look there for research opportunities of interest. To put in a research opportunity in the match-making website:

  1. Login to this website (link in the upper right corner). If you have not created a personal profile previously then you need to do that to be able to login. If you only want to describe an idea then you don't need to create a complete CV, just put in the "Basic information".
  2. After login click on the menu item My pages
  3. Click on the sub menu Match-making (Do not use My Projects as the latter describes your ongoing projects). From here you can add a new research opportunity or edit/delete existing ones.
Research opportunities are sorted according to date for last update of the information when they are presented to students. Thus, it might be a good idea to update your research opportunities if it was a while since you described it. Also don't forget to delete your research opportunity once you have found a match with a student (to avoid other students from contacting you regarding a research opportunity that is already taken).
New Honours students are enrolled in January. However, they must present a preliminary project proposal and advisors (in a pre-Honours application) during the year preceding commencement of Honours. This means that students are contacting potential advisors all year around to find a project suitable for them. Students might contact you so i It might be of value to know the instructions we give students:
information Student information on how to find advisors (supervisors)
There are three main pathways to get a relation with an advisor:
  1. One option is that you do one small part of a large project that is already up and running. In this situation a more or less detailed plan for what needs to be done comes from the advisor.
  2. Another alternative is that an advisor has an idea or a research opportunity for a project not yet up and running. In this situation you will be able to have a fair bit of influence on deciding all details.
  3. The third pathway is that you have your own idea and need help to sort out how to realize it. This means that you will create a project based entirely on your own ideas.
In all these situations you need advisors. To facilitate match-making between students and advisors the College offers some resources:
  1. A project database of ongoing projects. To find this click Search in the menu to the left. Then look under Customized Search. Click on Search for ongoing or completed projects. You will find different lists. In each of these lists Date commenced is clickable sending you to more information about the project. The name of the principal researcher (on top) or other co-workers or advisors are clickable leading to contact information.
  2. A database of ideas / research opportunities. This is our match-making website where researchers put up research opportunities. To find this click Search in the menu to the left. Then look under Customized Search. We do not want indexing robots to index all our ideas for future research projects. Consequently the match-making site is hidden unless you create a personal profile and log in. You will find different lists. In each of these lists the date for last update of information is clickable sending you to more information about the research opportunity. The name of the principal researcher (on top) or other co-workers or advisors are clickable leading to contact information.
  3. Contact the Honours site coordinators in the site where you will be most of the time when you would do Honours. Their names and contact details are found in the latest version of the Honours handbook. I recommend that you try to make this contact in small groups if possible.
  4. Approach researchers you know are involved in research with a topic similar to your interest.
You should investigate this in the order suggested above. Finding advisors and a project is the first hurdle you must sort out before being accepted to the Honours program. You will usually end up with more than one advisor. The combined requirements for your advisory panel is:
  • At least one advisor must have some formal affiliation to JCU. The interpretation is that they must be on JCU’s payroll for at least 5% of full time. The other advisor does not need to have any affiliation with James Cook University and they do not even need to have their work place in Queensland (given that they are happy advising you on distance).
  • At least one advisor must have some research training. Preferably a PhD. At least a Masters by Research (not Masters by course work).
  • It is desirable that at least one supervisor is familiar with the topic.
Theoretically one advisor can fulfill all requirements above. However. most students have two advisors. There is no upper limit on the number of advisors you are allowed to have. If you need three advisors to fulfill these requirements (and if you can find them) then we are happy with you having three advisors. However, due to a lack of advisors JCU will usually not be able to supply more than one advisor for each Honours student. Furthermore, having lots of advisors is sometimes troublesome and also reduces the number of advisors available for other Honours students. Consequently, we recommend most Honours students to have two advisors, one academic affiliated with JCU and one clinical familiar with the topic. Having one or three advisors should only occur during special circumstances. You do not need special permission to have one or three advisors. Just ensure that your advisory team meets all three requirements.

Finding assessors to Honours students

The College is putting in a substantial effort in trying to find assessors to the Honours students. We need your help to be able to do this as good as possible. More information about this is found below.

information What are the requirements of the contribution in finding assessors?

Previously the Honours team (the coordinator and research admin staff) found assessors for the students. However, the number of students has increased significantly making it difficult for the Honours program coordinator and the admin staff to find enough assessors. For this reason the Honours committee introduced in early 2013 that advisors need to assist in this task. The Honours coordinator and the admin staff still need to fix most assessors and also contact all assessors suggested by advisors.

The assistance we need to find assessors is a combined effort from all advisors. Thus, the burden is shared by all advisors the student has. The combined assistance we need from all advisors are:

  • The entry seminar, exit seminar and the literature review: The advisors should suggest one assessor for each of these events (it may be the same person or three different persons). The advisors should propose name and contact details of these and the student submits this information soon after commencing the Honours course in January. This will be in addition to 1-2 markers from the College research committee who will mark all presentations to maximise consistency. The final decision of appointing assessors is made by the Honours program coordinator.
  • The written thesis is assessed by 2-3 academic expert markers in the relevant field of research. At least one must come from the College of Medicine and Dentistry at JCU and at least one should be external from JCU. The written thesis: One external reviewer will have been approached by the project advisors to confirm their interest/availability for the period September and October. It can be the same person as suggested for the literature review if it is a person external to JCU. This name should be submitted soon after the student is commencing the program . The Honours Program Coordinator, in consultation with the Honours committee, will choose the final 2-3 examiners. They will then be contacted by the College to confirm their participation.

An adjunct to the College of Medicine and Dentistry is normally considered as an internal assessor. However, if it is difficult to find any other external assessor then an adjunct can be counted as an external assessor.

Assessors should not be relatives or friends (or enemies) to the student or any advisor. Furthermore, assessors / markers should not have a scientific conflict of interest. In practical terms, this means that they should not have published or received a grant with the student or any of their advisors in the previous five years.
information What level of research experience is necessary for an assessor?

The Honours course is a course in research methods rather than a course in a specific topic. Thus, the evaluation of the student focuses on the research component. It would be difficult for the assessor to evaluate a students research performance if the assessor has much less experience of research than the student. This is the reason why it is important to use assessors educated in research methodology.

The ideal education in research is a PhD or Masters by research. However, being in Australia north of Brisbane significantly reduces the availability of people with a PhD so compromises may be necessary. The minimum requirements would be that they have been co-author on a scientific publication at least once. The research component is in focus of the assessment and this aspect is more important than the clinical aspect (although the clinical aspect is of course also relevant).
information How to find assessors with research experience, knowing the topic and no conflict of interest?

If we are to maintain trustworthiness of our Honours program we need to maintain our policy that assessors have some experience of research and that they don't have a conflict of interest. There are several possible options that combined may solve (or reduce) the problem:

  1. Asking suitable assessors if they can assess more than one student.
  2. Contacting an institution overseas where there might be a few colleagues with research experience and without a conflict of interest and ask if they can assess. The assessment procedure is all online so it is not a problem if an assessor is overseas. This has already successfully been done for some students.
  3. Accept that the students are assessed by assessors that understands research (has a PhD) and have some understanding of the topic (perhaps being a medical practitioner) but they are not experts in the specific topic.

Also to help in the assessments expect to review work from another Honours student if you are a supervisor.

More information

Important dates and deadlines are described on the information web page for students. You can also contact the Honours program coordinator. More information is found in the Honours handbook (below).
pdf-icon Honours handbook 2019

PublishedDocument information: Information for current or potentially new advisors of Honours students | Last modified: 2017-12-08 by Ronny Gunnarsson

Information for current or potentially new advisors of Honours students, from James Cook University
http://researchweb.org/is/en/jcu/research/for-advisors