How to be professional

how to be professional

Time to step up your game

Why you should treat your postgrad studies like a job.

by Rockwell McGellin

More than 300,000 students are working away at their postgrad degrees this year. When they graduate, half of them will keep pushing boundaries with research in academia – the rest will end up using their expertise hands-on in their chosen field. Set yourself apart, and you could be one of those graduates – but you’ll need to take your degree seriously to get there.

A postgrad degree builds the foundation for the job you hope to have – so why not treat it like a job right from the start? A professional attitude will help you work better, feel better and, when you’re ready, get a better career. Here’s how to be professional while you’re still at uni.

How to be professional and work better

A postgrad degree takes two years for a Masters, and up to four for a PhD. It might not be broken down into neat, timetabled units especially if you’re doing a research project rather than coursework.

Tackling this amount of work takes a very different attitude to an undergraduate degree. It’s up to you to make your plan and up to you to stick to it. 

University of Sydney PhD candidate Amy Vassallo recommends getting started early, and having a regular routine.

“Take it seriously from the start and put in the hours along the way. Getting dressed, turning up, maintaining some sort of structure to your week and setting yourself milestones, just like any other ‘real job’, is important,” she says.

“It’s a marathon, not a sprint.” Continue reading

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1 Ancient future

Journey back in time and experience pre-settlement Australia through Indigenous eyes with Virtual Songlines. The game-like software package creates an immersive 3D-virtual reality, letting you explore the culture, arts and heritage of Australia’s first peoples with stunning detail and accuracy. You can hunt for a kangaroo or collect firewood as instructed by your elder. ab.co/2ae1Ues

2 Digital Dreamtime

Explore Indigenous sites through augmented reality app Digital Rangers. Developed by Indigenous-founded enterprise Indigital, the app uses object, location and image recognition to trigger stories on your phone with holographic detail. bit.ly/2aLHGKh

3 Meet and greet

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4 Connected care

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5 Cashed up

You can easily manage and grow the contents of your piggy bank with online educational program KidsCoin! Complete the lessons online and deposit your virtual dollars into your virtual bank account. KidsCoin was developed by Ngai Tahu entrepreneur Brittany Teei, who launched it shortly after winning the DigMyIdea Māori Innovation Challenge in late 2015. bit.ly/2aqpCW3 & bit.ly/2aW0yTk Indigenous tech

6 Keep on track

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7 Lost in translation

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8 On the job

Using innovative computer science technology, iWork Jobsite improves employment opportunities for disadvantaged and ‘digitally excluded’ Indigenous people, connecting jobseekers, from high schoolers to professionals, with potential employers. In its first three weeks of going live, iWork had almost 10,000 unique visitors. bit.ly/2aqoJNr

9 Crack that code

Code Avengers helps you become a coding superhero, with online courses and coding camps so you can build your apps and games. The educational platform was recently a finalist in the Māori Innovation category of the New Zealand Hi-Tech Awards. bit.ly/2aLbZjK & bit.ly/2awrD32 – Gemma Conroy

9 ways that code connects

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1 Ancient future

Journey back in time and experience pre-settlement Australia through Indigenous eyes with Virtual Songlines. The game-like software package creates an immersive 3D-virtual reality, letting you explore the culture, arts and heritage of Australia’s first peoples with stunning detail and accuracy. You can hunt for a kangaroo or collect firewood as instructed by your elder. ab.co/2ae1Ues

2 Digital Dreamtime

Explore Indigenous sites through augmented reality app Digital Rangers. Developed by Indigenous-founded enterprise Indigital, the app uses object, location and image recognition to trigger stories on your phone with holographic detail. bit.ly/2aLHGKh

3 Meet and greet

Learn about the Indigenous heritage and culture of your location with the Welcome to Country iPhone app. Be greeted by an elder with a traditional ceremony video before learning about tribal customs. The app covers 30 tribes across Australia and can be used by tourists, schools, tourism organisations and government departments as an educational tool. bit.ly/2aLHgDp

4 Connected care

Whānau Tahi’s global software was originally developed for the Māori community to connect individuals and families and their support networks with health and social service professionals. The company recently received recognition as one of four leading providers in the global health software space in the 2016 Microsoft Worldwide Partner of the Year awards. bit.ly/2awogJm & bit.ly/2aJ0QhT

5 Cashed up

You can easily manage and grow the contents of your piggy bank with online educational program KidsCoin! Complete the lessons online and deposit your virtual dollars into your virtual bank account. KidsCoin was developed by Ngai Tahu entrepreneur Brittany Teei, who launched it shortly after winning the DigMyIdea Māori Innovation Challenge in late 2015. bit.ly/2aqpCW3 & bit.ly/2aW0yTk Indigenous tech

6 Keep on track

Keep up to date with the latest information on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural events, dates, services and significant places with the Trakka mobile app, created by the Indigenous Consulting Group working with elders and youth from the Fremantle community. bit.ly/2av3fus & iTunes: apple.co/2aLGRkm & Google Play: bit.ly/2bDMv83

Indigenous tech

7 Lost in translation

Straker Translations makes clear communication quick and easy whether you’re grappling with Punjabi or Icelandic. Founded by Māori tech entrepreneur Grant Straker, the web-based service offers translation of more than 80 different languages for a range of sectors such as business, legal, television and tourism, and assists clients from all over the world. bit.ly/2aLIcrE Indigenous tech

8 On the job

Using innovative computer science technology, iWork Jobsite improves employment opportunities for disadvantaged and ‘digitally excluded’ Indigenous people, connecting jobseekers, from high schoolers to professionals, with potential employers. In its first three weeks of going live, iWork had almost 10,000 unique visitors. bit.ly/2aqoJNr

9 Crack that code

Code Avengers helps you become a coding superhero, with online courses and coding camps so you can build your apps and games. The educational platform was recently a finalist in the Māori Innovation category of the New Zealand Hi-Tech Awards. bit.ly/2aLbZjK & bit.ly/2awrD32 – Gemma Conroy

9 ways that code connects

Tech tools may be the newest kids on the block but they're streets ahead in the communication game.

1 Ancient future

Journey back in time and experience pre-settlement Australia through Indigenous eyes with Virtual Songlines. The game-like software package creates an immersive 3D-virtual reality, letting you explore the culture, arts and heritage of Australia’s first peoples with stunning detail and accuracy. You can hunt for a kangaroo or collect firewood as instructed by your elder. ab.co/2ae1Ues

2 Digital Dreamtime

Explore Indigenous sites through augmented reality app Digital Rangers. Developed by Indigenous-founded enterprise Indigital, the app uses object, location and image recognition to trigger stories on your phone with holographic detail. bit.ly/2aLHGKh

3 Meet and greet

Learn about the Indigenous heritage and culture of your location with the Welcome to Country iPhone app. Be greeted by an elder with a traditional ceremony video before learning about tribal customs. The app covers 30 tribes across Australia and can be used by tourists, schools, tourism organisations and government departments as an educational tool. bit.ly/2aLHgDp

4 Connected care

Whānau Tahi’s global software was originally developed for the Māori community to connect individuals and families and their support networks with health and social service professionals. The company recently received recognition as one of four leading providers in the global health software space in the 2016 Microsoft Worldwide Partner of the Year awards. bit.ly/2awogJm & bit.ly/2aJ0QhT

5 Cashed up

You can easily manage and grow the contents of your piggy bank with online educational program KidsCoin! Complete the lessons online and deposit your virtual dollars into your virtual bank account. KidsCoin was developed by Ngai Tahu entrepreneur Brittany Teei, who launched it shortly after winning the DigMyIdea Māori Innovation Challenge in late 2015. bit.ly/2aqpCW3 & bit.ly/2aW0yTk Indigenous tech

6 Keep on track

Keep up to date with the latest information on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural events, dates, services and significant places with the Trakka mobile app, created by the Indigenous Consulting Group working with elders and youth from the Fremantle community. bit.ly/2av3fus & iTunes: apple.co/2aLGRkm & Google Play: bit.ly/2bDMv83

Indigenous tech

7 Lost in translation

Straker Translations makes clear communication quick and easy whether you’re grappling with Punjabi or Icelandic. Founded by Māori tech entrepreneur Grant Straker, the web-based service offers translation of more than 80 different languages for a range of sectors such as business, legal, television and tourism, and assists clients from all over the world. bit.ly/2aLIcrE Indigenous tech

8 On the job

Using innovative computer science technology, iWork Jobsite improves employment opportunities for disadvantaged and ‘digitally excluded’ Indigenous people, connecting jobseekers, from high schoolers to professionals, with potential employers. In its first three weeks of going live, iWork had almost 10,000 unique visitors. bit.ly/2aqoJNr

9 Crack that code

Code Avengers helps you become a coding superhero, with online courses and coding camps so you can build your apps and games. The educational platform was recently a finalist in the Māori Innovation category of the New Zealand Hi-Tech Awards. bit.ly/2aLbZjK & bit.ly/2awrD32 – Gemma Conroy

Continue reading


How to be professional and feel better

Having a professional attitude isn’t just better for your work. It’s better for you, too.

“One of the most difficult parts of a PhD is maintaining motivation and enthusiasm to consistently work on the same project for three to four years,” Amy says.

Setting achievable goals, and letting yourself celebrate when you reach them, is one way to stay motivated, and avoid burning out. Taking time out from your studies, and leaving your work behind at the end of the day, can also be helpful.

“I like to think of my PhD as my job. I refer to it as work, and I try to be in my office or the lab from 8.30am to 5.30pm every day,” says Ellie Sugden, a speech pathology PhD candidate at the University of Sydney. “I aim to fit all of my PhD work into these hours, and avoid taking anything home with me if I can.”

“You can’t just drop everything when you start a PhD, it’s only one part of who you are,” Ellie says. “There needs to be some downtime, otherwise your health and the quality of your work suffers.”

There’s research to back up this attitude. Studies show that people who have some detachment from work during their downtime are happier and less stressed, without being less engaged while at work.

How to be professional and have a better career

There are real bonuses to being in the office or the lab every day. Being a postgrad isn’t just about getting the work done, it’s about taking advantage of the things that crop up along the way.

“A research degree is not only about taking opportunities to learn more things, but to build yourself as a person and as a researcher. Volunteer for lots of things – like student committees, conferences and teaching – these experiences make you more well-rounded and able to have some perspective on your research,” Ellie says.

You never know who you’re going to meet or what you’re going to discover in the office or at the lab – but whatever amazing career opportunities are out there, you aren’t going to find them by sitting at home. 

Recommended for you: How to succeed when everyone’s got a degree

“A degree is not only about opportunities to learn more things, but also to build yourself as a person.”

Heather Catchpole

Author: Heather Catchpole

Heather co-founded Careers with STEM publisher Refraction Media. She loves storytelling, Asian food & dogs and has reported on science stories from live volcanoes and fossil digs