A stepping stone for postgraduate research? Assessing the place of the honours degree in the Health Science curriculum


  • Bridget Kool University of Auckland
  • Samuel Haysom University of Auckland
  • David Newcombe
  • Susan Carter




Honours Degrees; postgraduate; Research Skills; Student Experience


Research honours degrees provide potential pathways into Masters and Doctorate degrees. Essential to their success is that they provide a sound grounding for novice researchers without taxing supervisors unduly. Our case study is a Bachelor Health Science (BHSc) (Hons) degree at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, a postgraduate degree aimed at attracting high-achieving BHSc graduates to study at an advanced level. This particular programme is not practice focused, but is a training ground for research. Therefore assessing whether the honours programme is a good investment for students meeting their needs and in preparing them for future study, and is a viable undertaking for often already over-committed supervisors is important. The overarching aim of this case study is to explore how to evaluate whether an honours programme provides a sound grounding for further research based postgraduate study. Graduates of the BHSc (Hons) programme (completed 2010 – 2014) and academics at the University of Auckland were invited to take part in online anonymous cross-sectional surveys. A total of 26 graduates and 23 academics completed the surveys. Overall graduates reported they were satisfied with the quality of the honours programme (73%; 19/26), found the programme to be intellectually stimulating (92%; 24/26), motivating (73%; 19/26) and overall worthwhile (85%; 22/26). Academics agreed that the programme was worthwhile (78%; 18/23), and that the programme adequately prepared graduates for future postgraduate study (65%; 15/23). This case study has found that the BHSc (Hons) programme is an effective launching pad for future postgraduate study; however, the findings have highlighted directions for future improvement in curriculum design. The study gave insights into the challenges, benefits and limitations perceived by academics involved in supervision and graduates completing the programme. Those designing postgraduate honours degrees as researcher training grounds may find this paper useful.

Author Biographies

Samuel Haysom, University of Auckland

Medical Student, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, University of Auckland 

David Newcombe

Senior Lecturer, Section of Social and Community Health, School of Population Health, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, University of Auckland 

Susan Carter

Senior Lecturer, Centre for Learning and Research in Higher Education, University of Auckland. 


Aitchison, C., & Guerin, C. (2014). Writing groups, pedagogy, theory and practice: An introduction Writing Groups for Doctoral Education and Beyond (pp. 19-33): Routledge.
Allan, C. (2011). Exploring the experience of ten Australian Honours students. Higher Education Research & Development, 30(4), 421-433. 10.1080/07294360.2010.524194
Brydon, K., & Flynn, C. (2014). Expert Companions? Constructing a Pedagogy for Supervising Honours Students. Social Work Education, 33(3), 365-380. 10.1080/02615479.2013.791971
Drennan, J. (2008). Postgraduate research experience questionnaire: Reliability and factor structure with master’s in nursing graduates. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 62(4), 487-498.
Fraser, R., & Matthews, A. (1999). An Evaluation of the Desirable Characteristics of a Supervisor. Australian Universities' Review, 42(1), 5-7.
Galpin, V. C., Hazelhurst, S., Mueller, C., & Sanders, I. (1999). Experiences of introducing research methods to Honours students. Paper presented at the 29th Conference of the Southern African Computer Lecturers' Association Golden Gate, South Africa.
Healey, M., Lannin, L., Stibbe, A., & Derounian, J. (2013). Developing and enhancing undergraduate final-year projects and dissertations.
Jackson, D. (2009). Mentored residential writing retreats: a leadership strategy to develop skills and generate outcomes in writing for publication. Nurse Education Today, 29(1), 9-15.
Kiley, M., Boud, D., Manathunga, C., & Cantwell, R. (2011). Honouring the incomparable: honours in Australian universities. Higher Education, 62(5), 619-633. 10.1007/s10734-011-9409-z
Kiley, M., Moyes, T., & Clayton, P. (2009). ‘To develop research skills’: Honours programmes for the changing research agenda in Australian universities. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 46(1), 15-25. 10.1080/14703290802646164
Kite, J., Russo, S., Couch, P., & Bell, L. (2012). The Honours Year—A Reflection on the Experience from Four Former Students. Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 36(1), 165-177. 10.1080/03098265.2011.599368
Lowden, K., Hall, S., Elliot, D., & Lweon, J. (2011). Employers’ perceptions of the employability skills of new graduates.
Manathunga, C., Kiley, M. B., D., & Cantwell, R. (2012). From knowledge acquisition to knowledge production: issues with Australian honours curricula. Teaching in Higher Education, 17(2), 139-151. 10.1080/13562517.2011.590981
McInnis, C., Griffin, P., James, R., & Coates, H. (2000). Development of the course experience questionnaire. Canberra; Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs.:
McMichael, P. (1992). Tales of the Unexpected: supervisors’ and students’ perspectives on short‐term projects and dissertations. Educational Studies, 18(3), 299-310. 10.1080/0305569920180304
Ministry of Health. (2004). Ethnicity Data Protocols for the Health and Disability Sector. Wellington:
Schweinsberg, S., & Mcmanus, P. (2006). Exploring the transition: Coursework to research-based study in the geography honours year. Geographical Research, 44(1), 52-62.
Spear, R. H. (2000). Supervision of research students: responding to student expectations. http://digitalcollections.anu.edu.au/handle/1885/41534 Accessed 28/11/16.
Thomas, D. (2006). A general inductive approach for analyzing qualitative evaluation data. American Journal of Evaluation, 27(2), 237-246. 10.1177/1098214005283748
Todd, M., Bannister, P., & Clegg, S. (2004). Independent inquiry and the undergraduate dissertation: perceptions and experiences of final‐year social science students. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 29(3), 335-355.
Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity: Cambridge University Press.
Zeegers, M., & Barron, D. (2009). Honours: a taken-for-granted pathway to research? Higher Education, 57(5), 567-575.






Original Research