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Students devote summer to real world research

The University of Auckland’s youngest researchers are nearing the end of a summer spent taking on real-life research under the guidance of leading academics.

Investigating topics from machine learning and wound healing to future cities and childhood animal abuse, more than 400 students were selected as Summer Research Scholars in the 2017/2018 cohort.

Available to high achieving undergraduates, each scholar received a $6000 tax-free stipend to spend 10 weeks contributing to authentic research.

In the Business School Nadya Fauzia spent her summer studying the factors which influence online customer complaints - from screen size and body posture to website layout and colours.
Her project, titled “The smaller the screen, the meaner I get,” was part of a larger research project by her supervisor Dr Laszlo Sajtos, a senior lecturer in Marketing.

“We wanted to test the hypothesis that if you are using a smaller screen you’re less likely to make well thought-out complaints, and more likely to make rushed, emotive complaints that reflect worse on the brand,” Indonesian-born Fauzia, 21, says.

Her research involved trawling through literature from linguistics, psychology, and ergonomics to pin down the various factors at play, working them into a model explaining which are most influential.

“We think the most influential factor is the online/virtual environment in which you’re making the complaint. That includes what you read in forums and Facebook comments, ease of navigating to the complaint page on a website, how friendly the website language is, colours. Another influence is how all this relates to your self-image.”

Fauzia is now entering her fourth year of a Bachelor of Commerce and Law conjoint degree.

For Social Work student Natasha Oliver, 22, it was an opportunity to channel her passion for animal welfare into making a practical difference.

Her project, designed in collaboration with the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), explored the connection between family violence and childhood animal abuse.

It involved an intensive literature review and an investigation into what interventions and training exist that cover child and adolescent cruelty to animals. She also produced factsheets to help social workers.

“The research explored the connection between family violence and the childhood perpetration of animal abuse. By doing so, it has helped to position animal abuse as another dimension of family violence and contributes to the holistic understanding of what’s going on in a child’s life.”

Natasha now enters her Masters year with a foundation of knowledge to write and publish articles with her supervisor Carole Adamson, and to inform future research on the topic.

Noelle Dumo from the Faculty of Arts took on previously unexplored research looking at women's participation in the New Zealand energy sector.

Under the guidance of Dr Julie MacArthur, her research was based on the premise that New Zealand's transition to renewable energy will attract increasing investment and employment.

However gender inequality is particularly acute in the energy sector, where women only have a 19 percent share of jobs.

Her summer project was to establish a picture of the state of current research and available data on the topic in New Zealand.

“I felt like I was setting the groundwork for what will be an important contribution to this area of study in the future,” Noelle, 25, says.

“The experience of being a summer scholar was awesome. I have always been passionate about gender issues and environmental issues and this topic allowed me to look into both at the same time. I learned a tonne about an industry that I had never researched before and developed skills in researching topics that are relatively new and not widely written about.”

As well as improving career opportunities, the Summer Research Scholarship programme helps students develop research networks, practice data collection methods, and acquire specialist laboratory and presentation skills.

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