There has never been a more exciting time to pursue a research degree

Whether you want to unlock the secrets of quantum computing or battle climate change at its core, there’s an HDR research project waiting to help you redefine your career.

Since you’re here reading Cosmos, it’s likely you enjoy keeping up with the latest scientific developments. But have you ever considered contributing to them?

Many believe entering the world of research means sifting through decades of mundane work before stumbling upon something genuinely riveting – if you’re lucky. Then there are those who realise they’re free to choose a topic that fascinates them but are daunted by the prospect of having to actually develop a hypothesis that will keep them engaged for three to four years straight.

Whatever reservations you may have, prepare to have them shattered. You’re about to discover just how mindblowingly cool some masters and PhD projects are today.

What astonishing challenges could you tackle with higher degree research?

Three postgraduate research scientists working in a laboratory.
Credit: Hinterhaus Productions/Getty Images.

Imagine spending three years working with some of the most toxic and volatile chemicals, in the vain hope you might begin to build a foundation for someone to make anti-cancer drugs in 30 years’ time. Doesn’t sound very thrilling or rewarding, does it? And unfortunately, that’s the kind of boring, practically useless research many students fear they’ll have to do if they pursue a masters or PhD.

Thankfully, tomorrow’s research students can get stuck into truly groundbreaking research that tackles some of the most pressing challenges of our time.

Just picture this: You’re part of a research team working on a cutting-edge program to improve cognitive function in the elderly. You’re not just pushing the envelope; you’re obliterating it. If successful, your research could revolutionise healthcare for seniors, giving them a better quality of life.

Talk about making a difference! And PhD student, Jess Amos, has actually been living that dream.

If that sounds more like the type of research you would love to sink your teeth into, take a look at some of the research projects you could apply for right now.

Open projects looking for brilliant minds

  1. Autoimmune anomalies: Ever wonder why the body sometimes turns against itself? Dive into the world of Guillain-Barré syndrome, a mystifying autoimmune disease, the treatment for which leaves patients permanently impaired. Explore why our antibodies go rogue and work towards ground-breaking therapies that could improve and even save lives. Unleash your inner detective, and you could be the one who finally cracks the cellular code.
  2. AI you can trust: Computers are making decisions for us, but can we trust them? Join this project and develop AI systems that value fairness, privacy, and transparency. And guide policies that govern these thinking machines, shaping our tech-infused future for the better.
  3. Hearts that think: Know someone with heart disease? You can be part of the solution. This project aims to make artificial hearts ‘smart’, responding automatically to changes like sleep and exercise. Merge disciplines like signal processing, control theory, fluid mechanics, and AI to redefine cardiac care and cement your status as a multidisciplinary expert.
  4. Trauma and food security: Hunger isn’t just about lack of food, it’s often deeply tied to traumatic experiences. Explore this intersection in populations with a refugee background and contribute to a broader lifestyle program. Make access to food about dignity, not just survival.
  5. The osteo-dementia connection: Got a knack for data science and an interest in public health? Investigate the overlooked link between osteoporosis and dementia. Your research could help doctors and scientists understand how these conditions intertwine decades before they manifest, influencing clinical practice and allowing early treatment of cognitive decline to stave off devastating dementia.
  6. Smart firefighting: In the face of bushfires, timely and accurate information can mean the difference between life and death. This pivotal research project seeks to forge new frontiers in emergency response by developing state-of-the-art situational awareness platforms. These systems will provide first responders with precise, near real-time data, optimised to prevent information overload while fostering rapid decision-making across different states and territories. Anyone working on this project will conduct research to create flexible, life-saving tools for the fire industry, and be at the vanguard of transforming how we combat natural disasters.
  7. Decoding rainfall mysteries: Take the plunge into one of Australia’s most pressing environmental questions: is climate change affecting our already variable rainfall? Work with leading climate scientists to analyse trends using the latest CMIP6 climate projections. You’ll get to the heart of how rainfall patterns are shifting, information vital for understanding extreme weather events like floods and droughts. This isn’t just an academic exercise; your insights could fundamentally influence Australia’s approach to water management and disaster preparedness.

What a line-up, right? It’s not just about lab coats and test tubes; it’s about changing lives and shaping futures. And there are hundreds of fascinating projects like those just waiting for research students to answer the call just at one Australian university – UNSW.

The questions are endless, but there are two that particularly stand out. Are you ready to leave a legacy? And if so, what change do you want to be a part of?

Unlock the future with a postgraduate research degree

A supervising scientist mentoring a postgraduate research student.
Credit: AzmanL/Getty Images.

Embarking on a higher degree by research (HDR) program isn’t just an academic pursuit; it’s a career game-changer. Graduates of post-graduate programs are highly sought after in academia, industry, and the public sector, globally. Whether you’re interested in leading innovative projects in tech companies, driving policy change in government, or advancing scientific research, post-graduate education opens doors. And the skills and networks you’ll gain will prepare you for greater responsibilities and more senior roles, allowing you to influence change, increase your earning potential, and make a greater real-world impact.

Your path to world-changing impact starts at UNSW

A graduating student making their way through a maze.
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At UNSW, it’s not just about earning a degree; it’s about making a lasting impact. Whether you choose a Doctor of Philosophy, Professional Doctorate, Master by Research, or Master of Philosophy, when you enrol in a higher degree by research (HDR) program at UNSW, you’ll gain hands-on experience working to solve real-world issues, guided by leaders in the field.

In fact, UNSW is ranked first in Australia for research quality and impact in the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings. So, you won’t just be another student taking up the time and resources of ‘real researchers’, you’ll be a key player in truly groundbreaking research projects.

And, of course, you’ll develop a diverse skill set, from data analytics to project management, setting you up for a fulfilling career and a higher paycheck. Indeed, the median salary of graduates of UNSW’s postgraduate programs is higher than that of any other Australian university.

If the cost of postgraduate education is holding you back from submitting an application, know that UNSW offers more than 70 HDR scholarships. Many cover tuition and provide a stipend. Some contribute to covering living expenses. Some UNSW industry-funded scholarships deliver $50,000 per year to research program candidates.

If you’re holding back because stepping into a higher degree seems like scaling a towering mountain, then fear not. At UNSW, you won’t trek the journey alone because there’s a vibrant, supportive ecosystem to help you succeed. The dedicated support services team offers everything from workshops for strengthening your academic skills to career counselling, a health service, LGBTIQA+ support, equitable learning services, and more, ensuring you have all the tools to turn this daunting journey into a fulfilling adventure.

Undertaking postgraduate study at UNSW is truly a passport to professional and personal growth, offering unparalleled opportunities to shape the future.

Elevate, innovate, and illuminate with postgraduate research at UNSW

A happy, confident postgraduate student developing research project ideas with their team.
Credit: Drazen_/Getty Images.

Breakthroughs, innovations, and transformative change are on the horizon. And they’re beckoning you! The world of research has never been this exhilarating and with UNSW, you’re not just studying; you’re shaping the future.

As our world continues to evolve at an unprecedented rate, so do the challenges we face. With a UNSW HDR program, you’ll be at the forefront of efforts to overcome those challenges. So, what are you waiting for?

The next chapter is yours to write. So, check out UNSW’s research projects or explore supervisors.

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