Alena Shannaq

Alena Shannaq

Doctor of Philosophy candidate

When Alena Shannaq expressed doubt about how well IELTS really prepares students for university study she had little idea that this throwaway comment would be at the heart of her PhD research.

“My PhD research topic was chosen during a casual discussion with my supervisor. I made a passing comment about my doubt that IELTS prepares students for academic studies, and my supervisor asked me straight away if I wished to research the difference between IELTS and university writing genres.

“When I started my data analysis, I realised that the problem is actually much bigger and started looking at the strategies students use in their first year of undergraduate studies.”

Alena hopes that her research will make academic staff more aware of the issues second language students face in their first year at university, and help university students be more psychologically ready for the challenges ahead. Her research is supervised by Associate Professor Pat Strauss and Dr Darryl Hocking from AUT’s School of Language and Culture.

She has already had the opportunity to share her work with other researchers at a number of conferences and symposia, as well as the Three Minute Thesis competition where she was the runner-up thanks to her impressive presentation.

Choosing AUT
Deciding to study at AUT was easy for Alena who migrated to New Zealand from Russia.

“I wanted to complete the highest education in my area of expertise, and AUT stood out because of its straightforward application process. I was also impressed by the small classes and the opportunity to get lots of attention from the academic staff.”

It’s a decision she hasn’t regretted.

“What I’ve enjoyed most about my studies at AUT was the flexibility and understanding from my supervisors. There’s also a lot of care for students through initiatives like mentor support, student reps and get-togethers for postgraduate students. It feels like home.”

Advice for other students
Once you trust your supervisors, just follow them, Alena advises other students.

“I originally intended to use a mixed-method approach, both qualitative and quantitative, for my PhD research but my supervisors said the qualitative data I had was too much. I didn’t believe them at first but now I realise that it would have been foolish of me to insist otherwise.

“I was super lucky with my supervisors, who were always involved and supported me in my academic as well as my personal life. A PhD is a long journey – I started while I was overseas and my supervisors provided long-distance support and encouraged me.”

You have to be ready for doctoral study, says Alena who expects to finish her PhD in April 2020.

“One has to be flexible as the direction of the research may change any time as it depends on the data you collect. You also need to be nuts about studying, like I am. But if I could do it, anyone can. I started one month before my due date with my first kid, and throughout my studies I gave birth to two healthy children, I worked full-time most of the time and I’m still on track with the studies.”