EDGE Spotlight

The EDGE Spotlight profiles PhD candidates and recent graduates, to find out how they’ve engaged in research and transferrable skills development during their PhD. We’ve aligned these experiences to the four domains of EDGE to help you think about the types of activities you might build into your personalised EDGE development plan.

EDGE supports you to develop your career throughout candidature, building skills knowledge, and experiences across the four domains of the EDGE Framework:

EDGE Spotlight on Dr Gunay Aghayeva

PhD Title: Literacy experiences of emergent bilingual preschool children from Afghan refugee families

Gunay Aghayeva

Dr Gunay Aghayeva commenced her PhD in the former School of Education in 2016 under the supervision of Dr Susan Hill and Dr Elspeth McInnes. Gunay’s research interests stem from previous work and personal experiences firstly as a teacher of English in corporate environments in Azerbaijan then as a new parent supporting her own children’s literacy development. These experiences informed her research project which examined at literacy development experiences for preschool children of Afghan refugees. Gunay is currently working as a relief teacher across a number of schools in Adelaide, in addition to casual tutoring at UniSA.

We talked to Gunay about the development experiences she has undertaken during her PhD, how these have enhanced her candidature and presented opportunities to shape Gunay’s PhD and the next stage of her career.

imagecgr78.png  Research Expertise:  addressing the needs of your research project

Gunay looked to local workshops and seminars to build her discipline knowledge and engage with her peers. EDGE offers workshops which address discipline-specific expertise in addition to those skills needed by all research candidates. Gunay said:

“The HDR Conversations (run in the school) were really important to connect with people, especially they go to conferences and come back and share their experiences. It’s eye-opening, I would hear from them then go home and do my own research to follow up on what I’d heard from them.”

Gunay recognises academic writing as one of the key skills she developed during her PhD, and the additional skills she developed to enhance her writing became increasingly important for the production of her thesis. Gunay recalls:

“I was lucky to be able to work with a research writing expert to help me develop my self-editing and formatting skills, and this really helped me to prepare my thesis for submission…I think this is definitely something to start working on earlier in the PhD!”

image3xshp.png  Enterprising Futures: responding to industry needs for specific attributes and competencies

Gunay was focused on staying connected to the academic environment but since completing her PhD has found many of the skills she developed during candidature have been beneficial in the broader education sector as well. The ability to quickly and critically source, absorb and synthesise information to support the transfer of knowledge to others, has been very valuable, especially when working as a relief teacher where the context changes regularly.

Gunay notes “the whole PhD experience helped a lot – my research skills, how and where to find the information I need, and being able to absorb a lot of different resources quickly for knowledge transfer.”

Gunay also found that communication and relationship building skills were critical to working with the refugee families in her study, because of the variations in language and cultural expectations. Gunay recalled:

“I had to try different ways to communicate with them, to keep them in the study…(because of my own background) I could imagine how hard it was to be accepted by the family, to build that trust fro that connection…I had some really positive feedback from one of my examiners about that and I talked about these challenges in my thesis”.

image8m8mj.png  Skills in Practice: recognising the value of experiential and work-integrated learning

To further her skills as an academic researcher, Gunay looked for practical experiences she could undertake alongside her research project. Gunay recalls:

“During my PhD I worked as a research assistant on the “Read Aloud Pals” project which was a good way to keep my data collection skills up to date.”

Academic research experiences such as attending and presenting at conferences are a great way to build your professional networks and create career opportunities. Gunay was caring for her young family while undertaking her PhD so her opportunities to engage in these traditional academic experiences were somewhat limited. Instead, Gunay made the most of local workshops and seminars to engage with colleagues and visiting researchers. Gunay explained:

“We had a visiting researcher from QUT and I had the opportunity to to make a short presentation from my research to her during her visit. She asked lots of questions and this helped me to think about my research and different ways to do things…these suggestions and recommendations were very helpful for me to extend my study.”

Gunay also created her own virtual networks to keep up to date with what was happening in her field, sharing knowledge and building digital literacy skills. Gunay said “My friend was doing her PhD in the UK and I’m always in regular contact with her, we are always sharing and she’s been working with experts in literacy and digital literacy, so I was always talking and sharing with her so that helped me a lot as well. She also shared studies she was reading and when she attended conferences she would share from those so I could keep up with what was happening in the field and get to know the main people in the field as well.”

This fellow PhD candidate also took on the role of “critical friend” for Gunay. She reflected:

“it is really significant to have this critical friend, who will not only say that you have done a great job, but also help you with the aspects that you need to reflect on and make changes accordingly."

image58fo.png  Careers in Focus:  helping you to reflect, plan and manage your skills needs in alignment with your career ambitions

Gunay came into her PhD as a passionate teacher and childhood literacy educator, and her desire to make a contribution in this field continues to drive her career ambition of working as an education researcher. With significant family responsibilities alongside her PhD, Gunay’s primary focus was her research rather than active career planning during candidature, but she took informal opportunities to build her employability through skills development and networking opportunities

Gunay reflects “I wasn’t able to attend conferences but I made sure I attended as many of our (school) HDR Conversations events as possible and went to seminars and workshops. Just being around, getting to know people, building those relationships, led to things that were useful for my career. That’s how I got tutoring work, and got the research assistant position.”

Gunay did recognise that doing more to build her career management skills during her PhD would have been helpful, if she’d had time. She noted that technical career skills “like how to write a cover letter or how to prepare a resume, espeically how to get those right phrases and keywords in to cover letters to get past the first application review, these are really useful things to learn”.