What is it like doing Honours?

If you ever meet an Honours student, be gentle and assure them everything is going to be okay.

After spending a bit over 6 weeks in the course, I can tell I am in for a “fun” ride.

But first..what even is Honours?

After finishing your three year undergrad course, you have the option to take an Honours year where you write a mini thesis (about 15000 words) on a research topic of your choosing.

Think of it as a crash course to research.

Image: quickmeme

You go about this looking for a supervisor who offers a project or works in an area similar to what you are interested in. This can be in any department which belongs to the faculty you are doing your Honours in.

For example, the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry & Health Sciences (MDHS) have several departments for students to choose from and each department offers different projects.

It’s a pretty full on year starting in 2 weeks before everyone gets back into classes and you have till late Oct/early Nov to hand in your thesis.

Majority of the year (~75%) will be spent collecting data/performing experiments which you may use in your thesis and the other parts involve coursework. There’s also a literature review where you trawl through dozens of papers which helps you summarize the state of your research field at the moment. This later become the introduction to your thesis and states why your research is important.

In science, it’s basically:

Read (with some assignments splashed in at the start) -> Plan experiment-> Fail at experiment -> Repeat experiment while reading some more-> Write thesis -> RESEARCH

Image: zinginsights

What I’m doing

Coming out of a Bachelor of Biomedicine, I am one of the minority who didn’t have my heart set for Medicine after the degree and wanted to follow a research pathway(but more on that another time).

I did some “project shopping” and finally decided on the project I am working on. I’m doing my Honours with the university’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology (DMI) at the Peter Doherty Institute (PDI).

View from the PDI tearoom balcony. Author’s own.

My project involves looking at the neural regulation of T cells, a type of white blood cell. I will be using some really cool techniques and expensive microscopes to create some really pretty pictures to track the cells.

So, what’s it like in reality?

I haven’t been doing this for the longest time (and I’m sure it’ll change in the future) but I am absolutely loving it.

Okay, I’m lying a little.

Reading research papers is a bit of a chore and I find myself rereading the same paragraph about 5 times before understanding it but hey, it’s all part of the job.

My first week of Honours involved lot of admin stuff and me kerfuffling around the lab. The second week was more of the latter. I was quite intimidated by the other researchers in my lab because they did everything with such efficiency and skill and there I was, scrambling to find the reagents and equipment I needed.

Luckily, everyone was (and still is) very helpful and I started to get the hang of things.

Image: diylol

I started off reading a lot for my literature review and as time passed, I started spending more time in the labs and less time reading, which means I have a lot of reading to do (/sadface).

I do thoroughly love being in the lab though. I easily spend hours in there and lose track of time.

Once, I was in there from 9am to 10pm (with some breaks in between), getting home at about 12 and only to go back in at 9am the next day. It takes me significantly longer to run an experiment but I think I’m getting better at it.

It’s not all lab work though. Honours does involve some coursework as well. The coursework and types of things you do is dependent on which department you’re with.

What’s pretty cool at the DMI is we Honours and Masters students get to demonstrate 2 practical classes to 1st year Masters of Engineering students. It’s definitely an experience being on the other side of the practical classes you grow to love in the sciences.


It probably didn’t help that I decided to move out when I first started Honours so that I could be closer to the lab. Apparently there will be some late nights (read 1-2am) in the near future so I guess it’s a pretty good move.

There are actually people who sleep in their offices overnight while their experiments are running. I feel like I would like to try that one day. Maybe.

In summary, I guess it’s not as intense yet. I’ve only needed to go in on the weekends 2/6 times so far. It will start to snowball though, as that Lit Review due date looms closer and closer. I’ll check in again in the near future to give you more insight into how the year goes and what I get up to.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to stare at this paper until in makes sense.

– Keit

4 thoughts on “What is it like doing Honours?

  1. Some advice on thesis writing – if you’re on your first draft just get something down on paper no matter how crappy it sounds.

    It’s much more important to get the ideas/observations/results/discussion points down on paper at first so that you don’t have to try and recall them in future unless you’re outrageously confident about your memory!

    The weeks leading up to your thesis submission is usually the most stressful period for a lot of people, so a good support group, regulated breaks, and having other people proofread your thesis is important!

    1. That’s some great advice and I couldn’t agree more!
      Things are much easier to organise when you have it in front of you. Definitely gonna try to keep this up throughout the year.

      I have some weird talking to self bits in my notes haha

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