Doctoral student shares her thoughts on postgraduate studies and assisting women in Kurdistan

Ashleigh AIi returns to her homeland, Kurdistan next week for a couple of months. Before she left, I spoke to her about life as a postgraduate student at AUT (Auckland University of Technology) and the charity she is helping to set up to help women in Kurdistan.ashleigh1

Ashleigh, you work at AUT but you are also studying towards your PhD. Can you tell me about your AUT experience as a student?

I started off with studying for my undergrad at AUT… I initially wanted to study performing arts at Victoria University but my mum had made me apply for a scholarship at AUT and she said if I didn’t get in then she would support me if I wanted to go down to Wellington to Victoria University. At the time, to my surprise, I got the scholarship and completed my degree. By the end of my degree, I found a passion for marketing, so I decided to carry on and complete my masters, which I did with first class honours. AUT even sent me to Cardiff in Wales to present my research. I then took a short break and couldn’t stop thinking about the possibility of studying for a PhD. So I applied and started my PhD. I was also fortunate enough to get some teaching experience, I was a teaching assistant for two years and a contract lecturer for one year at the Business Faculty. This was an amazing experience, and I will look forward to getting back into it again next year.

Would you do anything differently if you could start your postgraduate studies again?

Yes, I would choose my supervisors wisely. Postgraduate studies is completely different to undergrad… it’s harder, so it’s important to choose the right supervisors and not to rush into anything. I would also take some time to choose my topic more carefully. I knew I wanted to do my PhD but I wasn’t sure of the topic, and when I was approached by a supervisor I took up their suggestion, not realising maybe I should think more carefully and see if this is the topic for me. This delayed me by at least 6 months. The more I read, the more I realised it wasn’t for me. So eventually I had to change my topic to something I enjoyed, this also meant changing to new supervisors.

What tips do you have for students just starting their research or thinking about enrolling for a PhD?

To think carefully about your topic. It’s something you will be working on for many years, and perhaps even after you get your PhD, so it’s important you think about what it is you want to do. I would also suggest reading many articles before deciding. To take their time and not rush into it. Secondly, I would advise students to choose their supervisors carefully. It’s important to feel comfortable around your supervisor, and to be able to seek help when needed. A lot of guidance is needed, especially in the beginning of your doctoral studies, and a good supervisor definitely helps.

You emigrated to New Zealand in 1997 but you were born in Pakistan while your parents were Kurdish refugees. Has your family background influenced your achievements and educational goals?

In some ways yes. My parents weren’t as privileged as me. They didn’t have access to education or many opportunities I have here in New Zealand. My mum has supported me throughout my years at AUT. It is sad to see that my parents weren’t as privileged as me, and I think to let such opportunities go without taking advantage would be a very sad move.  

Of course it was hard living in Pakistan as Refugees, before we finally made it to New Zealand, but I didn’t allow my misfortune to stop me from what I wanted to pursue. English isn’t my first language, in fact I speak 3 other languages, which also is another challenge but even that doesn’t stop me.    

I understand that you will be travelling back to Kurdistan soon where you still have family living. What do you hope to achieve while you are there and can you tell us about the charity you are setting up to help women in Kurdistan.

A friend and I have started a charity organisation “Helping the Torn land Kurdistan – From NZ to Kurdistan”, helping those whose lives have had an impact by war. My family had to flee due to the war, and so I know how hard the struggle is. Unfortunately, there are people who are still in Kurdistan and have lost family members, husbands, and sons all at war. We organise a few charity events a year and each time the proceeds go to a different group. For example, the proceeds from the last charity event in July went to a summer school in a town who had fled the town in 2014 due to the war, and have recently made their way back to the town. Our latest event, “Ladies Enterprise Night Market” was a bit different. We wanted to give something back to the ladies here in Auckland as well as raising funds for Kurdish female victims of war. The idea was to stand as one, women uniting and helping one another regardless of their background. We wanted to give the female entrepreneurs and business owners here in Auckland an opportunity to give their business exposure at the night market while at the same time raising funds through a gold coin entry. I am happy to say the event was successful, and we had a lot of support from the public. Of course the female entrepreneurs and business owners enjoyed their time and we also managed to get some media coverage which was great. The proceeds from this event will go towards providing necessities for the women who are victims of war, which I am aiming to deliver by hand next month. I will be travelling to Kurdistan this month and will be meeting some of the female victims and hope to deliver them necessities to get by.

To find out more about how Ashleigh is giving back to Kurdistan women click here.

Ashleigh’s advice for students starting a doctorate or new research project plus some other useful tips are outlined below:

  1. Take the time to consider your thesis topic carefully as you will be stuck with it for a long time.
  2. Be in control of the important decisions you make about your thesis topic, and choose your supervisor carefully.
  3. Investigate effective ways of reading literature so that you can grasp the main ideas and details of your research topic. Setting up a good referencing system early on in your thesis journey is important.
  4. Start writing early because the more you write the easier it becomes. Try to write something every day.
  5. Don’t forget to look at the bigger picture, especially when goal setting.
  6. Reduce stress by having a life outside of your own research. Make time to socialise and have a break. Joining a peer mentoring group is a good way to meet other like-minded students. Check out the groups available at AUT here.
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About Robyn Kannemeyer

Robyn Kannemeyer was the Researcher Development Coordinator at AUT from October 2016 to the beginning of March 2017. She has an MSc in biosecurity and conservation and is taking up a role at Landcare Research as an Environmental Social Scientist. She is passionate about conserving New Zealand’s unique biodiversity and recently returned from travelling through South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Tanzania where she climbed Mt Kilimanjaro.

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