• Original” = the creation of “new” knowledge. As such, PhD/MPhil research differs from the sort of “research” a coursework student does.
  • Significant” refers to:
    • the size, scope and complexity of the project
      One clue as to the relative size and scope required of different degrees is that PhD theses have a word limit of 80,000 words, whereas MPhil theses have a word limit of 40,000 words. But it is important to note that there is no requirement to aim to write that many words, and thesis assessors don’t appreciate overly wordy theses. In fact, a lot of factors go into determining how many words might be “enough” for any given thesis project.

      One factor that plays a part in how many words a thesis requires is the discipline. For example, a literary analysis thesis would generally be wordier than a mathematics thesis, where lots of ideas are written concisely in equations. Also, some projects need a lot more background explained or a greater justification of methods than do others. Precisely defining “how much is enough” is not easy to do because of the range of factors involved, so a student has to rely in part on the experience of their adviser, but they also need to develop a “feel” for what is needed by looking at some "successful" theses written by previous students in the School.

      The complexity of the projects undertaken is also an issue, as the higher the degree, the greater the knowledge of, and experience with, advanced techniques in the discipline the student is expected to have developed during their candidature.
    • the “importance” or “potential level of interest” of the project to the discipline or relevant stakeholders.

      In terms of “importance”, this too can be hard to pin down precisely. For applied research it is relatively clear cut – the project should address questions or problems which are likely to lead to, or contribute to, significant economic or social gains. For example, basic research on the biology of the parasite that causes malaria might ultimately lead to the development of an effective vaccine, and given the number of people seriously affected by malaria in the world today, that ultimate outcome is worth striving for.

      For “pure” or curiosity driven research, “importance” can be harder to pin down, and relies on a knowledge of the current “conversations / debates / controversies / interests” of the discipline. Certainly, research that is foundational to future research is important, as is research that resolves past controversies. More generally though, one has to raise questions that others in the discipline would be interested in learning answers to.

      Another way of looking at the question of significance, is to consider some research projects as having (perhaps only potential) economic relevance, while others might have social or cultural significance. For example, research into the life and times of the bush ranger, Ned Kelly, would have potential cultural significance (depending on how much could be added to what is already known), while research into the public transport needs of particular sub-groups of women and men has potential social value.