Supporting our Postgraduate Research Masterminds

by Benita Olivier Associate professor and researcher in the field of musculoskeletal physiotherapy in the Department of Physiotherapy at the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa.

Ever heard of the YouTube channel called “Research Masterminds”? Here’s a glimpse into its birth history


We all know the feeling: the days when you have 16 things on your to-do list but you only manage to finish 4 of them, and then … along comes the guilt… On other days, when one deadline follows after the other, and where it feels as if you are just extinguishing fires all the time…  along comes the unavoidable computer crash, that seems to plague each and every academic at some stage, at the hype of the action!

A few years ago, I was in a very difficult situation where everything happened at the same time: I had taken on a new position in our department; the administrative staff member who had been allocated to this new position had not, (in fact never) returned from her holiday to the US; no one had yet been appointed in my former position; I was writing an exam for a Master’s degree at an overseas university; and my husband was playing in an action cricket World Cup tournament, which required many nights away from me and our two small boys.  At the same time, I was supervising 21 postgraduate students – quite a daunting task considering that the usual number recommended by the university, where I’m employed, amounted to only four to six students per supervisor. The overwhelming number of postgraduate students resulted from my having to take over the students of a staff member who was leaving the employ of the university.

Amidst all the pressure, I had also to deal with my own value system. I have a strong passion for postgraduate supervision and I believe that I am delivering a service on behalf of the university. In principle, I’m also not one who likes to inconvenience another, maybe… mmm… you can say that I “aim to please”, which is a built-in characteristic that has afforded me numerous opportunities, but has also caused me a lot of trouble in the past. Owing to these values, I would not be the one who would be delaying postgraduate students’ through the various milestones of their academic journey.

You can just imagine, having to cope with 21 postgraduate students all at the same time. I was forced to come up with an innovative way to get them through their course without being the one to obstruct or delay them. Things became quite intense when seven of them wanted to hand in their research projects for examination all in the same month – to avoid having to re-register for another year and thus to avoid the financial implications. I realised then that their difficulties with the work and the questions that they usually posed for their supervisor to sort out were legion.

Sometimes ultimate chaos is what forces us to find solutions. So, I developed a YouTube channel called “Research Masterminds”. Every time one of the postgraduate students posed a frequently-asked question, I would write it down and slowly but surely started making up a set of videos to answer the respective questions. They would range from those dealing with basic statistics and data management to those for managing one’s search results when doing a systematic review. With time, I came to realise that I could not confine the videos to the research domain only, but that they should be extended into the technical sphere. I realised that most of our postgraduate students, are full-time clinicians doing a postgraduate degree part-time, and tend to struggle with, for example, inserting a landscape table into a portrait document or adding a page number to a single citation after a direct quotation in EndNote. These challenges tend to eat into one’s writing time since they require a Google search to find a solution.  On the other hand, I would prefer the students to use their search skills to find the latest literature and use their precious time efficiently to ensure that they are on top of the knowledge in their field.

Therefore, I started putting videos together for each of these challenges as well. Moreover, when it comes to the writing up of the thesis or dissertation, there are videos that show one how to format the headings, the automatic table of contents, the list of figures, and the list of tables.

Now, one may think that these solutions are already out there, so why reinvent the wheel? – But, because the students would now hear the solution to their problem from someone whom they actually know, I am convinced that they would be inclined to solve their problems more promptly and get the work done in the right way… and this, my colleagues, has saved me a lot of time. I now continue to produce a video every time I come across a topic which I consider worth sharing with others.

My vision for this channel is to assist not only my own postgraduate students but also others across the globe. If you are struggling with some or other problem, please look to see whether you can find the solution on the ResearchMasterminds YouTube channel. And feel free to suggest new solutions to questions that you encounter that are commonly posed by sending an email to Let us work together strategically to find ways to cope with the chaos around us and a combination between innovation and technology is just want we need!  A happy academic can create knowledge in abundance!


Twitter handle: @BenitaOlivier