Advising Indigenous students

About advising Indigenous candidates

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers have the potential to bring significant new knowledge to the University and their fields, and the development of new Indigenous researchers is an important nation building exercise. Indigenous researchers add other perspectives and understandings to the disciplines in which they study.  The Universities Australia Indigenous Strategy notes the need to develop sectoral approaches to improve Indigenous HDR enrolment and success and this is also linked with UQ’s Reconciliation Action Plan.

To aid in retention and completion it is vital that academic advisors of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander HDR candidates have an understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, histories and knowledge systems as well as an appreciation of the different approaches to research and research design that may be needed to support research involving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities (Behrendt et al., 2012). Critical success factors in the supervision of Indigenous HDR students can enrich the research (Trudgett, 2011; Harrison et al., 2015; ACOLA, 2015), and include

  • providing culturally appropriate advice that incorporates the key principles of cultural safety;
  • acknowledging Indigenous HDR students as respected knowledge holders;
  • and an understanding that involving people from the community aids in the advisory process.

UQ offers Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander scholarships to support Indigenous candidates applying to UQ.

Cultural Competence

It is important to provide culturally safe and supportive environments for Indigenous research candidates. We can do this by making sure we have respect for, and appreciation of, differences in cultural and social norms, this includes research methodologies and practice that are influenced by culture. For example, the methodology may indicate who holds particular forms of knowledge, who is allowed access to that knowledge, and the positioning of actors within the research process. Expectations from various stakeholders may place strains on the advisory relationship if positive, ethical guidelines are not established early in the research process.

You can also assist candidates to connect in to community through the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Unit, and encourage them to reach out to the broader Indigenous research community at UQ and in their field.

For many Indigenous students, community responsibilities and family expectations carry a high priority, so appreciating and accepting this connection as part of their research experience is also an important aspect in your support of their studies.

Being self-aware

Being aware of your own culture and upbringing, and some of the privileges that may underpin that, are important elements of cultural safety. Understanding where your ideas come from and what is influencing your advisory approach, and how that interacts with that of your student will lead to better advisory experiences (For more information on cultural safety see Bin Salik, 2003; Williams, 2009; Cox and Best, 2019).

Success Stories

View Success stories from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander HDR graduates from across the disciplines on their pathway to an HDR, their experiences undertaking an HDR, support mechanisms that contributed to them completing their HDR, and advice for current Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students contemplating an HDR.

Framework for best practice supervision of Indigenous Doctoral Candidates

Source (Trudgett, 2014)

Helpful Resources

Lowitja Institute’s Supporting Indigenous Researchers: A Practical Guide for Supervisors is a practical guide for advisors in developing the capacity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health researchers and students. It brings together the advice and experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers and non-Indigenous researchers, to support new researchers who want to know how to build Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research ethics, values and approaches to research.

A best-practice framework for supervision of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander PhD students is offered by Trudgett (2014) as a guide for how advisors, universities and national bodies can contribute to increasing the number of Indigenous PhD graduates.

The National Indigenous Research and Knowledges Network (NIRAKN) is a national network committed to facilitating and establishing Indigenous-led research. It offers capacity building workshops, critical reading groups, Masterclasses, plus all other mentoring and support programs for Indigenous HDR students. These do not replace what UQ offers for Indigenous HDR students but complements UQ’s offering.

The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) provides national and international guidance in the ethical practice of research concerning Indigenous peoples.

Anderson, I. (2016) Indigenous Australians and higher education: The contemporary policy agenda. In: Harvey A., Burnheim C., Brett M. (eds) Student Equity in Australian Higher Education. Springer, Singapore. 221-40. 

Peter Anderson, Levon Blue, Thu Pham, Melanie Saward, Higher Degree by Research: Factors for Indigenous Student Success, Available at

Australian Bureau of Statistics (2018) 3238.0.55.001 - Estimates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, June 2016. 

Barney, K. (2018) ‘We need more mob doing research’: developing university strategies to facilitate successful pathways for Indigenous students into Higher Degrees by Research. Higher Education Research & Development 37 (5): 908-922. 

Chirgwin, S. K. (2015) Burdens too difficult to carry? A case study of three academically able Indigenous Australian Master’s students who had to withdraw. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education 28 (5): 594-609. 

Hutchings, K., Bainbridge, R., Bodle, K., & Miller, A. (2019) Determinants of Attraction, Retention and Completion for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Higher Degree Research Students: A Systematic Review to Inform Future Research Directions. Research in Higher Education 60 (2): 245-272. 

Liddle, C. (2016) First peoples: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation in higher education. In: Harvey A., Burnheim C., Brett M. (eds) Student Equity in Australian Higher Education. Springer, Singapore. 53-68. 

McGagh J., Marsh H., Western M., Thomas P., Hastings A., Mihailova M., Wenham M. (2016) Review of Australia’s Research Training System. Report for the Australian Council of Learned Academies. 

Moodie, N., Ewen, S., McLeod, J., & Platania-Phung, C. (2018) Indigenous graduate research students in Australia: a critical review of the research. Higher Education Research & Development 37 (4): 805-820. 

Trudgett, M. (2013) Stop, collaborate and listen: A guide to seeding success for Indigenous higher degree research students. In: Craven, R. G., Mooney, J. (ed.) Seeding Success in Indigenous Australian Higher Education. Emerald Group Publishing Limited. 

Trudgett, M. (2014) Supervision provided to Indigenous Australian doctoral students: A black and white issue. Higher Education Research & Development 33 (5): 1035-1048. 

Trudgett, M., Page, S., & Harrison, N. (2016) Brilliant minds: A snapshot of successful Indigenous Australian doctoral students. The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education 45 (1): 70-79.