Get to know PhD Student – Asma Akther


In this month’s newsletter, we would like to introduce PhD student, Asma Akther from the College of Education, Psychology and Social Work

Asma’s recently submitted thesis, “The adaptation of Australian-born children of skilled immigrants” received outstanding results from the examiners.

We asked what led to a PhD and why it was important, what has been the most enjoyable, hardest and highlights of the journey and how to overcome any challenges.

What was the topic of your PhD and why was it important to you?

My thesis title is “The adaptation of Australian-born children of skilled immigrants”.

As an immigrant parent raising two boys born in Australia, I have a keen interest in understanding the patterns of adaptation among immigrant children. Most research findings in The USA and Western Europe indicate that immigrant status can be a disadvantage for the adaptation of immigrant children, with even more acculturated second-generation immigrant children (who born in host country) displaying worse outcomes. This alarming trend prompted my investigation into whether similar findings apply to the outcomes of Australian-born children of immigrant, which was the main focus of my PhD research.

Contrary to most reports concerning immigrant children in the USA and Western Europe, my findings revealed a marked contrast outcome. Immigrant children in Australia are thriving, showing no evidence of poorer outcomes in terms of mental health and academic performance at ages 10, 12, and 14 years. This research area is close to my heart, and there is much work to be done to uncover the reasons behind these positive outcomes and sustain them for collective growth.

What have been the most enjoyable parts of the journey?

My PhD journey was far from smooth, yet amidst the challenges, there were numerous aspects that brought me immense joy. Immersing myself in a topic I am passionate about was a source of great satisfaction. Additionally, participating in conferences and presenting my research consistently brought me joy. A particular highlight was meeting professor Frosso Motti-Stefanidi, whose theoretical framework I incorporated into my thesis. I felt blessed to attend a preconference workshop conducted by her and another prominent researcher in my field. Collaborating with researchers from different countries was another rewarding experience.

Throughout my PhD journey, working as a casual academic and associate lecturer played a significant role. Coordinating an online topic and receiving positive feedback from students brought me great joy. I am thankful to Associate Professor Lorna Hallahan for providing me with the opportunity to teach and believing in me. I extend my gratitude to other academic staff who entrusted me with opportunities to collaborate. The positive experiences gained from working with them continue to serve as a source of strength for my future endeavours.

What has been the hardest parts of the journey?

I began my journey as a part-time PhD student, motivated to bridge a significant gap in my education. Despite starting part-time, I was determined to complete my Ph.D. ahead of schedule. However, various circumstances contributed to delays.

Dr. Julie Robinson, my first principal supervisor, took me on as her final Ph.D. student. Unfortunately, she retired in the middle of my candidature, posing a significant challenge to my journey. My new supervisors, Associate Professor Helen McLaren and associate Professor Lorna Hallahan provided invaluable support during this challenging period. I am also grateful that Dr. Julie Robinson returned as my adjunct supervisor. My heartfelt thanks go to all my supervisors for their unwavering support throughout the completion of my Ph.D. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic presented another substantial challenge. The time was particularly stressful for me as my parents and relatives reside in Bangladesh. Managing the emotional burden of the COVID-related struggles while continuing my studies proved to be an arduous task. Notably, my research utilised longitudinal secondary data from “The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC),” with participants selected at ages 10, 12, and 14 in two cohorts, the Baby and Kindergarten Cohorts. To enhance the analytical power, I chose data from both cohorts whenever available. Initially, both cohorts’ data were only accessible at 10 years of age when I conducted the first-time analysis. Subsequently, I used data solely from the Kindergarten Cohort for the other two ages. While my initial thesis draft was prepared in 2020, the availability of Baby Cohort data for children aged 12 and 14 prompted my supervisor, who suggested their inclusion. I opted to follow this recommendation, leading to additional time spent securing data access, organising the dataset as required, and reanalysing each aspect of the study.

Devoting my entire time as a part-time student to completing my thesis proved to be a significant challenge, impacting my concentration and, at times, my self-confidence. Nevertheless, I persisted through these challenges, and I am grateful for all of my supervisors support and guidance that ultimately led to the successful completion of my Ph.D.

What was highlight of your student life at Flinders?

I took great pride in being an HDR student at Flinders University, situated on the magnificent Bedford Park campus. The memories of numerous walks around the lake with colleagues, friends, and fellow PhD students are ones I will cherish. I have a deep appreciation for my college, CEPSW, and discipline members for their cohesive and friendly manner, as well as their positive and welcoming attitude towards me. My office room, where I could see the lake through the window, was a special place that I loved. I found joy in experiencing many rainfalls and observing birds visiting next to my window. The facilities provided throughout my PhD journey at Flinders were a source of happiness. Notable among them were discipline colloquium, workshops, and staff development programs, just to name a few.

How did you overcome any challenges of doing a PhD?

I never compared my life to others, and I believe learning begins from facing challenges. This mindset has been a great source of strength, enabling me to continue HDR journey after a long break from education. Additionally, due to a significant gap in my education, there are moments when I lose my confidence. However, my perseverance and positive nostalgia regarding my previous passions for education and academic achievements has proven immensely helpful in overcoming these challenges.

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