Summary and Reviews for Study Skills for International Postgraduate Students

‘Extensive in its coverage, Study Skills for International Postgraduates is written in a friendly, accessible style and is sure to be a great, practical resource for international students.’
Professor Hayo Reinders, Middlesex University, UK

‘The most concrete and practical guide on the market on how to achieve a postgraduate degree, with a maximum of how-to skills and competencies.’
Lotte Rienecker, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

‘This book outlines the core skills vital for successful postgraduate study. It will not only assist international postgraduates but will prove a useful guidebook for any student embarking on the postgraduate journey.’

Dr Dennis Grube, Griffith University, Australia

‘I am an international student and I found this book extremely useful. I had browsed a couple of other books on the similar topic and this one is absolutely the best. It is so well-structured that it provides step-by-step guidance to key skills required to successfully complete a postgraduate research. It has a lot of hands-on examples and exercises. The writing is very concise and the language style itself is a very good example to follow. Love the charts and graphs that enable quick understanding of complex concepts or procedures. Something very abstract and difficult such as what is critical thinking has been explained so clearly. I followed the steps suggested in the book in writing up a literature review and got a very impressive mark. Definitely a five-star book!’ review (5 Stars)

‘I found this book for those students hoping to gain a basic understanding of postgraduate student very good. Although it is primarily for international students, I found that as a domestic student this publication touched on aspects that certainly benefited me. It told me all that I wanted to know about the mysteries of postgraduate study in a language simple to understand because it’s written for international students–English not their mother tongue’. review (4 Stars)

Review 1

Study skills for international postgraduates, by Martin Davies, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2011, 328 pp., £16.99 (paperback), ISBN 13: 978-1-4039-9580-3

Whether students can make use of study advice in written form depends on the extent of their individual learner autonomy and responsibility or a strong sense of need that makes the title resonant for them. As the title suggests, this book addresses international postgraduate students and provides advice intended to help this group succeed at university. This target group must have been challenging to keep in mind during the writing given the dimensions of diversity among global education consumers. These days, Palgrave Macmillan is perhaps the most prolific publisher of books of tertiary study skills advice. To some extent, each new book it produces is competing with other books on its own list. However, this seems to be an area of publishing, as with dictionaries, where a new title is always desirable. It could be argued that what customers frequently get is the same advice in a new package.

That is not the case here. This book by Australian academic advisor, Martin Davies, goes into greater depth and detail in relation to the chosen topics, which cover the usual aspects of time and study management, reading, research, referencing and use of sources, academic writing and presentation skills. The book is anchored by its focus on helping students think critically about the ways that academic arguments are constructed.

Davies’ book gives many practical examples of strategies, format and language to help students develop awareness of Western academic conventions and use them appropriately. Many of the useful examples of target texts are drawn from business studies. He gives specific steps in paraphrasing and, in the useful section on writing critical reviews, sets out introductory phrases for articulating critical responses to text. This could be seen as a ‘follow-the-recipe’ approach, but inexperienced cooks benefit from having processes broken down into steps and being given time-saving tips before they start.

Given the complexity of academic reading and writing, it is helpful for many postgraduate students to have academic discourse features, such as critical review language, made explicit. Seeing processes and tasks deconstructed may help students develop some skills and confidence to formulate ideas in their own words. If an example could be improved upon, Davies points this out, often indicating the sorts of amendments that would enhance the writing.

The section titled ‘Being heard: speaking for assessment’ includes useful suggestions for language to use in tutorials or presentations so that the audience is clear about where the speaker is heading. For experienced presenters the approach may seem pedestrian but Davies correctly judges that sentence starters help with planning and drafting a presentation as well as rehearsal and the actual delivery.

The book is an effective introduction to study at postgraduate level. While some books targeted to postgraduate students emphasise thesis and dissertation writing, Study skills for international postgraduates could usefully be recommended to students at orientation or coursework stages of postgraduate degrees. It has been well designed to scaffold students towards thesis or dissertation work.

Davies mostly avoids temptation to present complex issues rather simplistically – an occupational hazard of the study-advice genre overall. There is no misrepresentation of the level of analysis and length of time and attention to detail that academic writing might demand. By the end of the book I realised that if Davies had included the usual academic adviser caveats throughout (‘it depends on the discipline’, ‘check with the lecturer’ etc.), the book would have been twice as long and much less useful for its readers.

The book could have been more accessible if the text had been broken up, as the layout is in places rather crammed and text-heavy. The book would have benefited from shorter preambles and greater use of more white space to avoid overwhelming the reader. A good model in this respect is another book in the Palgrave Macmillan series, Stella Cottrell’s Study skills handbook, which is focused towards undergraduate student needs.

If the book is re-edited it would be good to amend occasional messages that frame international students as somehow more ‘problematic’ than their local peers. In Chapter 15 ‘The final polish: editing and proofreading’, for example, there is the overstatement, ‘native speakers who have no trouble in writing often make mistakes. Most would never fail to edit and proofread’ (p. 228). In terms of academic writing having ‘no trouble’ is rare, and failing to edit and proofread is legion among students (and their lecturers) of all stripes.

Lecturers and tutors of postgraduate students could also consult this text for ideas for in-class activities to help students develop academic literacies. Particularly useful sections are writing a critical review, annotated bibliography, literature reviews and the argument analysis in the chapter ‘Critical thinking’. Overall, the book contains many useful strategies that are, in fact, relevant to both international and local postgraduate students. Let’s hope that all students see themselves as the ‘international’ target group and benefit from the study advice.

Dr Caroline MalthusHigher Education Research and Development, Vol 32(1), 156-159.


Review 2


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 specifically with the PhD experience, I thought it looked relevant. I don’t have the background to give it an authentic review, since I have never studied overseas myself, so I asked for volunteers at ANU. Sandra 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.

“International 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.