Higher Degree Research

Higher Degree Research

Traditionally in Australian universities students take an honours year (a fourth year of a bachelor degree with a mix of coursework and small thesis project) as the pathway to a PhD. Macquarie has moved away from this, with the new entry requirement for a PhD being a Master of Research (MRes). This is a two-year degree, with the first year being advanced coursework, and the second year dedicated to a project. It's designed to be aligned with Europe's Bologna Process model of graduate study and the beginning of a US graduate program.

There's a stipend (scholarship) available for full-time domestic students. And it's possible to get credit for previous study (e.g. a coursework masters, or an honours degree) for entry straight into the second year -- effectively, it's an extra year to work on the PhD project.

For more information about the MRes in general:

You can also find information about the structure of the MRes:

Year one coursework

This first year of the MRes consists of 8 units (32 credit points) of coursework. At the end of the year, after completing the coursework, you will decide on the topic of your Year 2 project. Full official details of the program are in the Handbook.


Unit Selection

1. All Computing students should take the following three units, which are concerned with research skills in computing and a general overview of computing research.

2. Students should choose two units from the following, which are connected to the research groupings in the Department.

You should choose the remaining three units from the following:

Once the program has been put together, it has to be approved by the MRes advisor, A/Prof Mark Dras.

Project Decision

By the second Wednesday of December, you will have decided on a topic for the Year 2 project. At this point you should send to the MRes advisor, Mark Dras, a document with the following information:

  • the name of your supervisor or supervisory panel;
  • the title of your project; and
  • a summary of the main project goals and ideas (around 3 paragraphs).

Year two project

This second year of the MRes consists of a 32 credit point thesis project, with some structured activities along the way that will help with completing the project. Your project will be a significant individual piece of research, carried out under the supervision of one or more members of the academic staff. You will have decided on the topic and title for your project in December of Year 1, based on discussions with your academic supervisor. Year 2 will be the development of this initial idea into a full thesis. Year 2 starts in early January, when the university re-opens.

Full official details of the program are in the Handbook.

Activity 1: Research Frontiers in Computing 2

It will be structured around a series of seminars and reading sessions organised by the Department research groups, reading sessions with other students, and specific sessions with your supervisor.

Assessment will be in the form of a 3,000-4,000 word report based on the seminars, similar to COMP700, due in late August. The report mark will constitute 10% of your assessment for the MRes Year 2. Assessment will be based on the following criteria:

  1. Introduction of the background and evolution of the research area.
  2. Analysis of the state of the art.
  3. Discussion of the open problems and subfields.
  4. Clear presentation and good writing skills.

Activity 2: Literature Review

This will be a structured approach to writing the literature review that will make up part of your thesis.

  • There will be a number of Faculty and Department sessions covering how to write a literature review.
  • These will interleave with student-supervisor sessions covering the content of the literature review.
  • You will submit an initial literature review in mid-April.
  • You will submit a final literature review (maximum 3000 words) by the end of May.

The literature review will be assessed on a satisfactory/unsatisfactory basis, on the following criteria:

  • Comprehensiveness of Abstract;
  • Clarity of Problem Statement;
  • Review of Related Work;
  • Quality of Writing; and
  • Appropriate Use of Referencing Conventions.

Activity 3: Research Methods

This will consist of a number of sessions covering research methods in general, along with student-supervisor sessions covering research methods specific to the subfield of the thesis topic. You will make a presentation on the research methods used in one specific subfield of Computing.

The presentation will be assessed on a satisfactory/unsatisfactory basis.

Activity 4: Research Planning

This will consist of a number of sessions on project management, and specifically on how to plan a research project. As part of it, you will be required to produce a research plan after discussion with your supervisor supervisor for a project of up to 4 years duration (i.e. for a PhD scope) with the main focus on the first year. You will then give a presentation to the Department on this plan at the end of June, drawing also on the literature review (Activity 2) for background. The final PhD research plan will be due by mid November.

The presentation will be assessed on a satisfactory/unsatisfactory basis.

Activity 5: Thesis

You will produce a thesis equivalent to 15,000-20,000 words, incorporating the literature review (Activity 2) on the basis of your research plan (Activity 4), due early- to mid-October.

As an indication of the sort of projects that you could do, look at the following links:

The thesis will be examined by two academics external to the university, and will constitute 90% of your assessment.


For full-time students finishing the project by the second semester of 2014, the general schedule of the due dates of the main activities is summarised below.

  • May: Research Methods presentation, literature review.
  • June: MRes project progress report plus presentations.
  • August: Research Frontiers report.
  • October: Submit thesis.
  • November: Final PhD plan.

The Department of Computing offers full-time and part-time research programmes which can lead to a qualification of:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

A research degree lasting 2-4 years full-time that results in a thesis at the end making "a distinct contribution to the knowledge of the subject and afford evidence of originality by the discovery of new facts or the exercise of independent critical power".

Details from the Higher Degree Research Office website

Master of Philosophy (MPhil)

A research degree lasting 1-2 years full-time that results in a thesis at the end making "a contribution to the knowledge in the area with which it deals by presenting new interpretations of facts or by demonstrating an independent critical ability to evaluate existing material in a new light".

Details from the Higher Degree Research Office website

Collectively these are known as Higher Degree by Research (HDR) programs, roughly equivalent to the graduate programs offered in the North American universities. Similarly, students enrolled in PhD and MPhil degrees are called the “HDR students”, just as their North American counterparts are called the graduate students..

How to Apply


The Higher Degree Research Office has general information about how to apply for a PhD or MPhil. This includes details on:

  • entry criteria;
  • the process of submitting your application, and what needs to be included; and
  • application forms.

Finding a Supervisor

You should first of all have a look at the areas in which the Department conducts research, to get an idea of candidate supervisors.

As the second step, feel free either to email a potential supervisor, or to contact A/Prof Yan Wang.

Research Proposal

The process above includes submitting a short research proposal as part of the application. This proposal should concisely address the following questions:

  1. What is the Research Problem? Provide a brief description of the research problem you would like to tackle.
  2. Why this Problem? Describe why finding a solution to this problem is important, for the world, or the research community?
  3. Why You? Tell why you are particularly interested in this problem. Describe how your academic background has prepared you to solve this problem.
  4. Why Macquarie? Why do you think the department of Computing at the Macquarie University is a good place to carry out this research? How does this problem align with the research interest of the supervisor you would like to work with?
  5. How would you approach the problem? Give some idea of how you plan to solve this problem. It is not expected that you have a solution at hand -- you have more than three years for this purpose. But you should have seriously thought about the problem that you are going to spend three to four years of your life upon.
  6. What is new? Presumably other researchers have addressed related issues. What is novel in your approach? How is it different from what others have done? Provide a short bibliography of resources you cite in the proposal.

It is expected that you would consult your potential thesis supervisor, and take their suggestions into account while preparing this proposal.

Further Enquiries

For any queries, please contact our Department’s Director of HDR, A/Prof Yan Wang.

Stephen WanStephen Wan

Dr Stephen Wan leads the Language and Social Computing research team at Data61, CSIRO. Stephen’s research in Natural Language Processing (NLP) has been applied in software systems that help users find actionable nuggets of information to help with performing difficult or time-consuming tasks, or to gain insights from a large collection of text documents. The aim of this work is to help us better understand our society and the world in which we live in.

One example is in the area of social media text analytics.   The volume of publically available social media data grows at an overwhelming rate, so much so that it is impossible to read and categorise it by hand.  Yet social media may have the potential to provide game-changing insights. These insights could help us understand, for example, the social factors that contribute to health issues like depression and obesity, which are often discussed online.  Such insights could help improve our health services.

In his research, Stephen is particularly interested in understanding how NLP and other language technologies can be harnessed to deliver contextualised information to the user, taking the user's interests, tasks and information needs into account.

One of the things that makes this research so interesting is the myriad of ways that we can use language – a word can have a number of different meanings, and this may depend on factors such as the age, gender, location and cultural context of the person using it.  Our use of paraphrase and synonymy can introduce a rich variety of ways that we can refer to things.  Designing algorithms to account for this wonderful variation is part of the challenge and the fun of this research area.

Stephen is also interested in information browsing tools for digital libraries, as well as computing applications in the areas of: Government 2.0; creative uses of NLP; and eResearch tools that help provide insights from scientific literature.

Career pathway

Stephen completed his undergraduate degrees in psychology and linguistics and also in computer science at The University of Adelaide.  He completed his Honours degree in computing at Macquarie University, at the Centre for Language Technology in the Computing department.    In 2011, he was awarded his PhD in computational linguistics at Macquarie University under the supervision of Dr Robert Dale, Dr Mark Dras and Dr Cecile Paris.

Teresa Lynn Teresa Lynn

Teresa was born in Drogheda, Ireland. She completed her undergraduate degree in Dublin City University -- a BSc in Applied Computational Linguistics--  in 2002. Part of that degree involved an Erasmus year at the University of Nancy 2, France.

She then worked in industry for several years both in Ireland and in Australia, mainly in the field of localisation and translation. In Melbourne she worked on a large research & development project in machine translation for English-Tagalog, the major language of the Philippines. Inspired by this work, she decided to return to academia and pursue a PhD in studies on the linguistics of her home country's native language (Irish) and natural language processing (NLP). The PhD was a cotutelle agreement between Macquarie University and Dublin City University.

At Macquarie University, she was supervised by Associate Professor Mark Dras, and successfully completed her work in January 2016. Her work involved the development of a corpus of Irish text that has been marked (annotated) with information about the structure of the Irish language  (i.e. which words in the sentence are the subject, object, how the prepositions relate to verbs or nouns, and so on). With this corpus, she trained a computer system to automatically parse (break into syntactic structures) previously unseen Irish text. Through her use of a bootstrapping methodology in building the corpus, her work has also contributed to the development of technology resources for minority languages more generally as well.

During the 3rd year of her PhD, Teresa received a Fulbright Student Award to spend 6 months working in St Louis University in the U.S. with Prof. Kevin Scannell looking at automatic processing of Irish language tweets. Following from this work, Teresa has attracted wider interest in the area of NLP for minority languages through a TEDx talk entitled "How social media breathes life into minority languages". She has also attracted media attention and given interviews on radio stations such as BBC Radio Ulster.

Teresa is currently working as a Postdoctoral Researcher in Natural Language Processing in the ADAPT Centre in Dublin City University, Ireland.

Daisy He

"My name is Daisy He, I obtained a PhD in Computer Science. From 2006 to 2010, I spent three and half years in the Computing Department of Macquarie University. Looking back six years after the graduation, although there was always pressure and stress associated with research and papers, but to me, that three and half years in Macquarie are full of enjoyable memories, to some extend, I can probably say that was the best time of my life.

I really enjoyed the time I spent with other fellow PhD students and the staff in the office, coffee time, and post-lunch walks. Lunchtime was exciting, the canteen always full of laughs. Students and staff used to have lunch together. People bring all sorts of food from their own culture background, and we share them. We talked about life, research, food, and movie, everything… We usually go for a walk in the campus after lunch, or do some quick shopping across the road. Macquarie has a beautiful campus, I like to walk to the lake, watch the birds and ducks swimming in the lake, and let the minds fly.

We had regular morning tea in the department at that time. Everyone go and helping out, and everyone had fun. We celebrate Christmas together; I still remember the delicious ham we cooked together with the staff, and the beautiful fruit punch.

I love sports, so do some other fellow students and staff. We used to go to the Macquarie gym and play badminton together, lots of fun. The gym is fantastic, swimming pool, group classes, they even have Taichi and meditation class. Trust or not, I tried all of them. Absolutely love it.

I guess one of the key elements contributed to my wonderful PhD life in Macquarie was the supports I received from the university and from all the staff. During my PhD time, I had a number of international publications. I presented at a number of conferences worldwide, in US, in New Zealand, in India. The university paid all my travel and expenses. Really appreciated that, it will not be possible without the support from the university.

It usually takes several years of your life to do a PhD, but it is not at all boring and painful. It is the very opportunity that you can get a break from your life, concentrate on some critical thinking and enjoy all other bits of that period. I loved my PhD life."


Students have access to a number of scholarships, which pay a living allowance (stipend), and in some cases for international students pay tuition fees: some are funded by the Australian Government, such as Australian Postgraduate Awards (APAs); some by research grants; some by Macquarie (MQRES); and some from other sources. The Higher Degree Research Office has a listing of such scholarships.

Research Funds

The University has a postgraduate research fund (MQPGRF, see also Faculty’s webpage) available for HDR students in their later second year or third year of doctoral enrolment to support their research. It might cover travel to conferences, the visit to other research institutions, and so on. The amount is currently up to $5000, available once during the degree, on submission of a research proposal justifying the expenditure.

The Faculty has its own separate Faculty postgraduate research fund. Since 2011, conference travel would not be funded. Paper registration fee at a conference can be funded if the student’s travel to the conference has been funded by the university PGRF and/or the supervisor’s research grant.

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