Student scenarios

Scenario 1: Medicine
Scenario 2: Business and Economics
Scenario 3: Arts
Scenario 4: Science and Engineering

Scenario 1: Medicine

Louise is a new PhD student in the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine. Her PhD topic relates to policy interventions to prevent the outbreak of infectious diseases like bird flu. She is interested in this topic because of her work as a policy analyst with the Victorian Department of Health and her background in volunteering in developing countries, and sees completing the PhD as a good way to further her policy career as well as her interests in social development.

Louise's research will involve a number of field interviews with health workers and policy makers in Australia, Vietnam, Indonesia and China. She has an iPod and thought that she would use this to make audio recordings of the interviews, which she will later analyse (possibly using NVivo).

Louise also wants to access the policy documents of government agencies and health service providers (including hospitals) in Victoria and other jurisdictions in Australia and overseas. She thinks she will do some kind of content analysis on these, probably also using NVivo, for which Monash has a site licence. Some agencies freely provide these documents on their websites, while other agencies have internal documents that are not readily available to the general public, which she may have to approach the organisations for directly.

Louise wants to test her hypothesis that a speedy response from policy makers can reduce the spread of infectious diseases. This will require doing some cross-analysis of her findings from the policy documentation and interviews along with the World Health Organisation's Cumulative number of confirmed human cases of avian influenza A(H5N1) dataset, which is available for download from the WHO website as a series of PDFs published monthly.

In doing her literature review there are a number of industry publications and academic journals that Louise has identified as potential places in which she might try to publish later. There are also some big international conferences coming up, and her supervisor has encouraged her to consider presenting her results at these.

See "Discussion" section below


Scenario 2:  Business and Economics

Gemma is about to start a PhD in the Faculty of Business and Economics. Gemma worked as a stockbroker in London for several years, but is increasingly interested in environmental issues. For her PhD, she wants to track the relative success of shares included in ‘ethical investment' portfolios, compared to more general investments. She also wants to look at the newspaper coverage given to ethical investment in the financial sections of major Australian newspapers to see if it has grown at the same rate as the number of ethical products in the market has grown. 

Gemma has already discovered that she can access ASX information through the Australian Equities Tick History database hosted by Sirca (a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee to host and manage ASX data for a small group of collaborating Australian universities, including Monash). This data goes back to 1991 but the most recent results can take several months to appear. The data is accessed via a web interface and the results that Gemma receives from her searches (which have a certain number of parameters) are put up on a server from where she can download them as a .csv file. The files only stay on Sirca's server for a month - after that time they are deleted.

Gemma thinks she will probably only need Excel to do her analysis on the stock data - she got a copy of Microsoft Office installed on her laptop by eSolutions when she started working at Monash as a research assistant and plans to continue using that once she finishes her contract and starts the PhD full-time.

Gemma thinks that the best way to investigate the newspaper coverage would be to download the full text of lots of newspaper articles from the Library's databases and then load these into a software program called Leximancer, which is designed for textual analysis of the kind she wants to do. This tool was developed by UQ researchers but has since been spun out into a small company. Gemma asked eSolutions about Leximancer but they said the tool is not supported at Monash because there are only a few users of it locally. Nevertheless, a friend of Gemma's has found it so useful that he is paying the monthly subscription out of his own pocket and has recommended that Gemma do the same.

Gemma thought her project was going really well, but her supervisor recently suggested that it might be better if she focused on more than one national market, and has suggested that she should think about including other countries such as New Zealand, Denmark and Canada as part of her study.

See "Discussion" section below


Scenario 3: Arts

Lachlan has recently started a PhD in the School of English, Communications and Performance Studies. He is interested in the history of circus arts in Australia, and developed this interest while doing paid and voluntary work as an arts administrator.

Lachlan will be doing archival research in state and city archives in Victoria, Adelaide and Brisbane. His supervisor has suggested that he use a digital camera to make copies of as much material as he can while doing his fieldwork in the archives, so that hopefully he will not have to do multiple trips to the different cities (his budget for the fieldwork is very limited). He will end up with hundreds, if not thousands, of images of archival documents, programs, posters, and photographs.

He also plans to interview present and past performers, administrators and Board members of a number of circus companies, and to document a number of performances using a digital video camera. Interviews will be analysed, possibly using NVivo software, for which Monash has a site licence.

Lachlan is an aspiring writer and would eventually like to publish a social and pictorial history of circus arts for a general, rather than academic, audience. If he cannot find a publisher prepared to publish this as a book, he might try to get the information out via a website or via his blog, which he also plans to use to promote the project while he is doing it. He has also been approached by the ABC to produce a radio documentary, and plans to use snippets from his interviews as part of this 1-hour show. He thinks the interviews might constitute an interesting oral history collection in their own right and wonders whether the National Library or State Library of Victoria or some other institution may be interested in having these at the end of the project.

See "Discussion" section below


Scenario 4: Science and Engineering

Paul is just starting out on his PhD in Engineering. He is investigating the properties of certain metals in the context of more efficient car design. Paul is interested in pursuing a career as an academic researcher and is more interested in the fundamentals of surface science than he is in cars, but he was pleased to  receive a scholarship from the car manufacturer that is supporting the research in the hope that the results will give it a competitive edge.

Paul is one of four PhD students using this project as the means of completing their PhD - they have the same supervisor, who is the Primary Chief Investigator on the ARC Linkage Project that the PhD students are all part of. Paul will be working with samples of various kinds of metals, which will undergo different treatments in the lab. Each student in the lab will be treating the same metals slightly differently and they will need to be able to compare results with each other. The treatment processes vary, and Paul's is one of the most complex - it can take him up to a month to generate a very small number of samples.

The treated samples will be run through a scientific instrument that produces very large images and lots of them - one experiment might generate hundreds of images. This piece of scientific equipment is provided by a commercial supplier, who also licenses the software needed to perform the analysis and visualisation on the images. The machine has been in use in the department for a while and is pretty slow: there has been talk that it will be upgraded sometime soon, which everyone is really looking forward to as this will speed up the research.

The second stage of Paul's research will be to model the effects on car efficiency of using metals that have received the treatments. The car manufacturer that is sponsoring his research has a computer model that they have developed themselves and want to validate. Paul will feed his lab-generated data into the models, producing new derived data that may point to design changes that the company could make to improve the efficiency of their vehicles.

It is likely that prototype cars made from the new materials might be produced as a result of this work, but this would probably not happen in the timeframe that Paul is doing his PhD (he is aiming to complete in 3 years, but the project has at least 5 years of funding). When he finishes, Paul thinks he will seek a post-doc in another institution, and try to further his work using the data that he has derived during his PhD, perhaps applying the findings to another area of transport manufacturing (e.g. high speed rail).


Identify at least two data management issues that the student may need to consider if they are to avoid problems.

Try to identify at least one potential technical issue, and one potential non-technical issue.

Hint: You may want to start your discussion by thinking about what the student wants to do with their research at the end of the project and working your way back from there.