Doctor of Philosophy candidate
As a scientist you’re part of an effort to do something that is universally good, says Awanis Azizan who came to AUT as an international student from Malaysia to study a PhD in marine biology.
“The work I’m involved in is not just good for certain people or for my family or community, but it’s good for us all; and that includes all life forms. My research deals with really important issues like the effect of climate change on shellfish health, and the impact that has on the aquaculture industry.
“I only have so many heartbeats left, and I want them to go towards ameliorating the negative changes brought about by humanity’s actions. I know this sounds ambitious, but I’m a strong-willed person and want to focus on research that addresses the world’s most pressing issues and that is undeniably for the greater good. Once I complete my PhD, I envision working closely with environmental defence agencies and policymakers.”
Making a difference to marine life
For her doctoral research Awanis is investigating the impact environmental factors have on the Green-lipped mussel, a species that is extremely important to New Zealand’s aquaculture industry.
“My research focuses on the biological functions and molecular mechanisms involved in New Zealand Green-lipped mussels in response to environmental influences like summer mortalities and pathogen co-infection. I’m also interested in developing new tools for assessing mussel health and identifying mechanisms of disease and resistance.”
You need to have extreme passion for the environment to be involved in research like hers, says Awanis whose PhD is funded by a scholarship from the Malaysian government.
“This research programme is not for the non-committed! But if you are optimistic, believe that this is a meaningful pursuit, don't mind being part of a ‘movement’, enjoy complex challenges and respect the many different systems for valuing nature, oceans and its inhabitants, then go for it.”
Awanis’ research is supervised by Professor Andrea C. Alfaro, an internationally renowned expert on aquaculture and the director of the AUT Aquaculture Biotechnology Research Group.
She carefully considered her options for doctoral study before deciding to come to AUT, Awanis says.
“Education is an investment in yourself and your future, so it’s important to consider the reputation and resources of your university, and how you might be able to contribute to them and develop as a learner and a leader. I started by consulting a lot of rankings and looking through ResearchGate profiles of AUT researchers relevant to my research interest.
“I also carefully considered what country I wanted to be in. The New Zealand aquaculture tended to grow faster in influence and talent when it comes to tackling the effect of climate change than other countries. Coming from Malaysia, New Zealand was also a more comfortable cultural fit for me.”
It’s a decision Awanis hasn’t regretted.
“I’ve enjoyed everything about my studies so far. Sometimes, I work outside in the environment, and at other times I work on challenging quantitative problems and bioinformatics analysis. I get to work with and talk to good people who are fun and value nature the way I do. This is going to be a great journey – I couldn't have wanted anything more and it’s already more than I ever imagined.”