Anna Plessas

Anna Plessas

Doctor of Philosophy candidate

How much experience does a learner need to have in learning for a machine to make a prediction about their training history and their future behaviour? That is the interesting topic Anna Plessas is exploring for her PhD.

“My research goal is to understand adaptive learning through choice behaviour in frequently changing environments by utilising machine learning and behaviour-analytic data.

“Adaptation through learning is a fundamental process that defines human nature. If modern technology allows us to challenge our teaching and training methods by changing the way we analyse problems, we may be able to understand learning as a situation-specific problem-solving strategy and develop learning markers that predict future learning patterns.”

Anna’s research is supervised by Professor Dave Parry from the AUT Knowledge Engineering and Discovery Research Institute (KEDRI) and Associate Professor Jason Landon from AUT’s Department of Psychology, as well as Dr Sara Cowie from the University of Auckland.

New frontiers for psychologists
For Anna, her PhD is a great opportunity to combine her background in psychology with machine learning.

“I’ve worked in the field of applied science for almost 20 years, and in these 20 years I witnessed how new technologies have changed our lives. I felt a strong drive to be part of this world that brings us new knowledge. This degree gives me the unique opportunity to conduct novel research by combining experimental analysis of behaviour with machine learning.”

She says she would recommend exploring machine learning applications to other psychologists.

“Machine learning could provide opportunities to advance our science beyond classical statistical methods and strengthen the predictive ability of psychology. I’m currently experiencing my own transformation into a computer savvy researcher, which takes an enormous amount of energy and effort.

“Fortunately, I’m receiving huge moral support from my supervisors. As a mum of two lovely girls, I also have to say that I wouldn’t have enjoyed this journey if my husband wasn’t the strongest admirer of my research. He was my ‘pilot’ to KEDRI and machine learning.”

Supporting budding researchers
AUT is a rapidly growing university with great research impact and sophisticated equipment, says Anna who expects to complete her PhD by 2023.

“The people at AUT I talked to before I enrolled impressed me with their open-mindedness and willingness to support original ideas. AUT also provides exceptional support to take the appropriate steps to make your research publishable.”

The group supervision meetings have been among the most inspirational moments for Anna.

“As my research spans across different departments, we set times to meet together. Working in a group is powerful – the combination of everyone’s skills and knowledge is taking my research study to another level. I definitely don’t feel alone on this journey. I’ve enjoyed the challenge in learning, the stimulating environment and the interesting discussions with my supervisors.”

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