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The Australian National University

Intellectual climate: overview

Research overview & references

One area where most universities score lower than others in the Postgraduate Research Experience Questionnaire is research culture or 'intellectual climate'.

Summary statistics for PREQ sub-scales for all Australian respondents 2002-2006 % agreement

Scale 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006
Supervision 70.8 72.7 72.7 73.8 76.3
Skill development 89.0 89.6 91.1 90.6 91.1
Intellectual climate 54.7 56.3 57.7 58.3 63.2
Infrastructure 65.8 67.2 68.5 69.5 72.7
Thesis examination 75.0 75.1 79.2 79.4 80.2
Goals & expectations 87.5 89.3 90.1 90.0 91.2
Overall satisfaction item 80.8 82.3 83.8 83.4 84.8

(Source: ANU Statistics Office)

The statements to which the Graduate Careers Council of Australia ask students to respond to (on a 5-point Likert-scale) under the intellectual climate of the survey are:

  • The department provided opportunities for social contact with other postgraduate students

  • I was integrated into the department's community

  • A good seminar program for postgraduate students was provided

  • The department provided opportunities for me to become involved in the broader research culture

  • The research ambience in the department or faculty stimulated my work.

Certainly where candidates comment positively on their experience one of the most common positives is feeling part of a research culture. In fact, candidates involved in a positive research culture are likely to rate their overall experience high, even when their supervision was not necessarily highly regarded.

Culture is often referred to as knowing the 'rules of the game'. These rules can be learned implicitly e.g. how to question appropriately in a seminar from having attended several with one's supervisor, or explicitly e.g. how to present in a seminar after having attended a workshop on presentation skills.

The appropriate ethics and approaches to research for the discipline within which the candidate is working can be learned through involvement in the broader research culture of the Centre/School. Worryingly of course, candidates can learn unethical behaviour and inappropriate ways of undertaking research if involved in a negative cultural environment.

Of course, some graduates responding to the survey will have been part-time, off-campus candidates and there is no doubt that it is difficult for part-time candidates to access some of the positive aspects of the departmental research culture, however, one presumes this is no reason not to focus on the needs of these candidates.


Graduate Careers Council of Australia (2003). Postgraduate Research Experience Questionnaire: 2002. Parkville Vic, GCCA.

Kiley, M. (2005). Engaging students in doctoral communities. In AUQF (Ed.), 2005 Australian Universities Quality Forum: Engaging communities (pp. 73-77). Sydney: AUQA.

Lonner, W. and R. Malpass, Eds. (1994). Psychology and culture. Needham Heights, Allyn & Bacon.

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