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Five top doctoral theses honoured

26 March 2014

Five top doctoral theses honoured

The Vice-Chancellor’s Prize for the Best Doctoral Thesis at the University of Auckland in 2013 has gone to PhD students in the Faculties of Arts, Education and Science and the Liggins Institute.

The prizes are awarded to the five most exceptional theses successfully examined each year. Criteria include the demonstrable significance of each thesis in its field, the originality and excellence of the research, exceptional academic and intellectual achievement, and timely completion.

Eighteen nominations were received from faculties for the five prizes, out of a total of 321 doctoral degrees successfully awarded.

The winners (listed alphabetically) are:

Deborah Harris (Liggins Institute). Thesis on ‘Neonatal Hypoglycaemia’. Deborah carried out studies looking at the best way to detect and manage neonatal hypoglycaemia (low blood glucose levels), which is a common problem and a preventable cause of brain damage in newborn babies. She found that new techniques for monitoring babies at risk were safe and reliable, but not yet appropriate for widespread clinical use. She showed wide variation in practice across Australia and New Zealand, leading to reassessment of current screening guidelines. She also showed that dextrose gel is a safe and effective treatment that can be recommended for first line treatment of hypoglycaemia in late preterm and term babies. Her studies have substantially increased understanding of neonatal hypoglycaemia and are likely to alter clinical management.

Victoria McLelland (School of Psychology, Faculty of Science). Thesis on ‘Memory for the Future: The Encoding and Phenomenology of Episodic Simulations’. Neuroimaging and neuropsychological research have established that our capacity to imagine future events is dependent on our capacity to remember the past. Both tasks engage a common core network of brain regions, but the hippocampus is more active during imagining than remembering. It's possible that this increased activation results from the imagined events being encoded into memory. The encoding and retention of imagined future events have yet to be systematically investigated, and in her thesis, Victoria uses both fMRI and novel behavioural methods to provide insight into how imagined future events are encoded. Her findings expand our knowledge of the role of the hippocampus in the encoding of episodic representations, including future simulations.

Robert Myles (School of Theology, Faculty of Arts). Thesis on ‘Jesus the Bum: An Ideological Reading of Homelessness in the Gospel of Matthew’. Robert’s thesis uses socio-rhetorical criticism to probe the nexus between Jesus and homelessness as it surfaces in the Gospel of Matthew. He drew on the critical theory of Slavoj Zizek to argue that the connection functions as a sublime object of ideology in biblical interpretation. What emerges is a refreshed perspective on the deviancy of Matthew’s Jesus in which his status as a displaced outsider is identified as a significant contributing factor to the conflict of the narrative, and to his eventual execution.

Rachel Simister (School of Biological Sciences, Faculty of Science).
Thesis on ‘The Microbial Ecology of Marine Sponge-Associated Microorganisms’. Rachel’s thesis contributes to the field of sponge microbiology by advancing the understanding of the specificity, stability and community level ecology of sponge-microbe associations. Her thesis studies are among the first to utilise next-generation sequencing technologies to address ecologically significant questions about marine sponges and the microbes which inhabit them.

Marek Tesar (School of Critical Studies in Education, Faculty of Education). Thesis on ‘Governing Childhoods Through Stories: A Havelian Analysis of Childhood Subjectivities’. Marek’s thesis examines the production of childhoods through children’s literature and the formation of subjectivities through texts, stories and fairy tales. He argues that the striking resemblance and familiarity of the post-totalitarian and neoliberal contexts analysed, exemplify the ways that childhoods are governed through stories in any ideological context.


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