While there are a plethora of books on how to do your PhD, very few of them deal with doing a PhD while living overseas and working in another language. Conversely, books on study skills for international undergraduate students are relatively common, so when “Study skills for international postgraduates ” by Martin Davies came across my desk I was interested.  Although it doesn’t deal solely with the PhD experience, I thought it looked relevant as it had some useful advice on things like supervision. But I felt like I didn’t have the background to give it an authentic review. I have never studied overseas myself, so I asked for volunteers at ANU. Sandra Velarde kindly offered to read it.

Sandra J. Velarde is PhD Scholar at the Crawford School, ANU. She investigates tree planting contracts for bioenergy. She holds a MSc. in Ecological Economics and BSc. in Forestry. Sandra has researched land-use trade-offs and participatory scenarios while working at international organisations in Kenya, Brazil and Peru. On weekends, Sandra paints rural landscapes and manages her husband’s dog training business.

int study skillsI wish I have come across this book when I started my PhD (mmm…impossible actually because it was published a year later!).

The advice and tips I read here are invaluable for both research and course-work international students. This book could also be a good refresher to local postgrad students, specially if they have been out of the university system for a while.

This book’s tips about study skills are very detailed and presented in both checklist and mind map formats that makes its reading enjoyable and easy to follow. I think this book was designed for time poor people (hey PhD newbies, listen up!) because Davies has managed to say it all in 308 pages including references.

By “all” I mean topics that range from the basics about being a post grad student and the survival skills you need such as time planning and critical thinking to “minor” yet important issues like citations, to data research and speaking about your work in tutorials and seminars. Davies has gone through a great deal of effort by providing a very detailed and comprehensive book of study skills tips, yet, simple and to the point.

This book is a ‘how to’ tool for planning, reading, writing, comprehending, and speaking for postgrad students. It does not deal with the emotional part of being an international postgrad student. Many of us have families who are either with us under a tight budget or are left behind in our countries and we can only see once a year or after a couple of years.

Most of us are also scholarship funded with high expectations from colleagues and funding agencies back home or even self funded, paying at least double to 10 times the fees we would pay back home while out of the workforce. It also does not deal with the PhD student-supervisor relationship, nor it does with strategies to cope with balancing studying and mental health.

However, I feel if had just read this book 3.5 years ago and followed its tips, it would have save me precious time with counselors and coping strategies, because at the end of the day, the key skill for a postgrad student is time management. Getting used to routines and not leaving everything for the last minute.

Davies speaks in a sort of recipe, “do as I say” language, with clear steps, graphs and a brief rationale for each part. This book would make an excellent pre-departure gift to international postgrad students and it could also be helpful throughout their degree as a reference book. The book is full of clear suggestions, questions and practical ideas to put in practice to improve your time management, reading, writing and speaking skills.

Would I recommend this book to international postgrad students? Yes, of course and read it early on.

Book: Study Skills for International Postgraduates by Martin Davies, 2011, Palgrave Study Skills series.

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