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Research breakthroughs for eight PhD graduands

More than 3100 people will graduate this week at AUT University’s largest graduation to date – among them a record eight doctors of philosophy.

About 1800 graduands will attended the ceremonies being held in Auckland's Town Hall over three days, from Wednesday to Friday March 22-24.

Research from AUT’s most recent doctorate graduands spans a diverse range of subjects – from language maintenance in bilingual children to new computational approaches to knowledge discovery.

The PhD graduands are Lissa Gilliver, Liang Goh, Kerry Gould, Deepa Marat, David Parry, Robert Paxton, Shanjiang Yu and Yuqin (Susan) Zhao.

Research by one of the eight new doctors has made biotechnology history.

Lissa Gilliver’s doctorate entitled Novel mechanisms for controlled antigen expression (KODE CAE) on erythrocyte membranes, addressed a fundamental problem.

Through her doctorate, Lissa helped develop a new synthetic molecule to transform human group O red blood cells to A, B or AB.

The ABO blood group system in humans consists of the A, B, AB and O blood groups and failure to determine ABO blood type correctly can have serious, even fatal, transfusion consequences.

The process that Lissa helped discover allows the production of cells to a specific blueprint with precise performance characteristics.

Before this research, there was no suitable system for determining the sensitivity of ABO blood typing assays, other than to use natural cells.

Successful validation analyses and a clinical field trial led to the launch of a product which detects deficiencies within the testing systems of blood grouping laboratories.

Before doing her PhD at AUT’s School of Applied Sciences, Lissa completed a BSC in physiology at Victoria University and worked in Australia’s pharmaceutical industry for five years.

Lissa now works for international pharmaceutical company Janssen Cilag in Auckland.

Other PhD graduands are:

Liang Goh (School of Computer and Information Sciences)

Computational methods for microarray gene expression analysis through integration and knowledge discovery.

Liang developed computational methods based on the evolving connectionist systems theory proposed by AUT’s Knowledge Engineering and Discovery Research Institute (KEDRI) director, Professor Nikola Kasabov in 1998. Liang developed five novel algorithms and methods for modelling and knowledge discovery from high-dimensional data for the integration of several sources of information, such as genes and clinical data.

Her methods were applied on real cancer gene expression data and several prognostic sets of genes were discovered relating to leukaemia, lymphoma, breast and lung cancer. Profiles for outcomes of lymphoma and breast cancer indicate different people are predisposed to respond to cancer therapy differently, and that these responses can be predicted in advance.

Kerry Gould (School of Public Health and Psychosocial Studies)

Enhancing outcomes for children after familial restructuring. The development, implementation and evaluation of the 'Staying Connected' programme.

Kerry Gould developed, implemented and evaluated a family intervention programme, ‘Staying Connected’. She drew on her experience as a counsellor and family therapist and used a family therapy approach. ‘Staying Connected’ aimed to improve children’s lives after their parents' separate. Kerry investigated levels of depression, trauma, resilience, self-efficacy, communication and parental conflict. Through the ‘Staying Connected’ programme, families showed statistically significant improvements in most areas compared with families not using the therapy.

Deepa Marat (School of Education)

Secondary school students’ efficacy in mathematics and achievement in diverse schools

Deepa assessed students’ self-efficacy in mathematics, teacher efficacy, and the relationship between self-efficacy and achievement in diverse schools in Auckland. The findings indicate students are reporting high levels of self-efficacy for mathematics, both students and teachers report efficacy in use of learning strategies and the level of high self-efficacy in mathematics is not reflected in mathematics achievement.

The major factors emerging as independent variables which impact on achievement in mathematics include efficacy for self-regulated learning, resource management, use of cognitive and motivational strategies, practicing mathematics to learn, confidence to perform successfully in examinations and self-belief in meeting others’ expectations. Her research also found the use of learning strategies is not a deliberate or planned process.

David Parry (School of Computer and Information Sciences)

Fuzzy ontology and intelligent systems for discovery of useful medical information.

David Parry used ontology – a set of relations between concepts – to make internet search queries more precise and therefore more useful. He reasoned the internet is an important source of information but finding the right information can pose problems. This is partly because search engines cannot cope with people using different senses of the same word. In his research, a web browser was developed to enable users to rate the usefulness of pages and identify words related to topics of their choosing. A "fuzzy" ontology, using the principles of fuzzy logic, was derived where users stated they "strongly", "slightly" (etc.) felt words had particular meanings. David’s research suggests fuzzy ontology can be used to improve the performance of a specialised search engine.

Robert Paxton (School of Engineering)

Modelling of electroactive polymer hydrogels for optical applications.

Robert Paxton developed a computer simulation to assist in lens development by predicting the behaviour of certain materials. His work was part of research by AUT University’s Diagnostics and Control Research Centre on developing a new type of lens which will adjust its focus in response to an electric field. Through Robert’s research, experiments can now be simulated before visiting the laboratory, saving significant time and resource.

Shanjiang Yu (School of Languages)

Family factors in bilingual children’s code-switching and language maintenance: A New Zealand case study.

Shanjiang Yu assessed the impact of the English language in Chinese immigrant families in New Zealand. He discovered a shift to the English language in Chinese families, predominantly by younger family members, regardless of how strong parental beliefs are. Shanjiang’s research indicates parents need to understand that language maintenance needs careful planning and much more daily effort than previously imagined.

Yuqin (Susan) Zhao (School of Languages)

Incidental focus on form in teacher-learner interaction and learner-learner interaction.

Yuqin Zhao researched grammar teaching and learning in second language study. She discovered when students spoke to each other in classes they learned as effectively as with speaking to the teacher. Yuqin’s research suggested while teachers were more active in correcting learners’ errors, students preferred to ask peers questions rather than the teacher. She also found students helped each other with language difficulties which suggests speaking between students should be encouraged.


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