Professor produces trio of PhDs at graduation

27 September 2017

Dr Mohamed Alansari, Professor Christine Rubie-Davies, Dr Zhuoni (Annie) Cai and Dr Nane Rio at a Graduation Ceremony
From left to right: Dr Mohamed Alansari, Professor Christine Rubie-Davies, Dr Zhuoni (Annie) Cai and Dr Nane Rio

Supervising a PhD student takes at least four years of mentoring and support, so for an academic to have three PhD graduates at once is a huge success.

But that’s just what the University of Auckland’s Professor Christine Rubie-Davies has achieved at this year’s Faculty of Education and Social Work Spring Graduation.

New doctorates Mohamed Alansari, Zhuoni (Annie) Cai and Nane Rio have all been supervised by Professor Rubie-Davies through the gruelling four-year process of getting their PhDs.

“As a supervisor of a doctoral student, you have to be their best friend, mentor and guide but you also have to challenge their thinking so they reach the highest levels,” Professor Rubie-Davies says.

“It’s important to keep track of the student and make sure they are on schedule and on the right path.”

For Mohamed Alansari, his Doctorate, titled Social-Psychological Factors and Tertiary Learning Environments: Student Perspectives, Measures and Influences,
included a series of three studies involving 1,500 University of Auckland students.

He investigated factors that contribute to students’ views of tertiary learning environments and predict their academic performance. He developed an original learning environment questionnaire, and used it to introduce an empirical model, explaining the direct and indirect effects of the tertiary climate on students’ expectations of success, motivational beliefs, and achievement.

He passed his oral exam earlier this year with no changes to his PhD, a rare feat. His Doctorate ends 22 years in education, nine years of tertiary education straight after 13 years of school.

“Christine is the epitome of academic excellence and intellectual rigour. She is exactly the kind of supervisor every student needs – passionate, experienced, supportive, honest, and always one step ahead. Christine is that one outstanding academic I aspire to become one day. I wouldn’t have dreamed of achieving a doctorate if it wasn’t for her.”

Annie Cai’s doctorate was on Teacher Expectations for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

As well as investigating teacher expectations for children with autism, she also investigated factors that contributed to teacher effectiveness with autistic children such as teacher beliefs about autism teaching and teachers’ autism-specific knowledge.

Annie’s research showed that different teachers held differing expectations for individual students with autism and teacher-related factors played an important role in forming expectations and teaching students with autism.

“It was my great honour and privilege to have a supervisor like Christine. She is the best supervisor and mentor I have met. She gave me lots of encouragement and feedback which inspired me to think critically and gain further knowledge; she sent me the latest studies in my research field and worked very late at night on my thesis. She also cared about me and supported me to do what I wanted to do (such as being a mum)…she showed me what an excellent academic and supervisor is like.”

Annie lives in Invercargill and recently joined the Ministry of Education as a special education advisor. She is keen to apply what she has learnt into practice. She emphasises teachers’ high expectations for their students, teachers’ high self-efficacy in teaching students and tries to understand children from an ecological and development perspective. She plans to keep focusing on how teacher expectations influence development of children with special needs.

In Nane Rio’s PhD, Teacher Expectations: Student and teacher perspectives, she examined the phenomenon of teacher expectations which has been seen to play a crucial role in education.

Her participants included 57 practising primary teachers and 1,187 Year 4 – 8 students from 8 mid and low decile schools in the Bay of Plenty and Auckland.

She investigated how teacher expectations can influence ethnic minority groups and in particular, Māori and Pasifika students. In three studies, students and teachers provided their views of the possible implications for a student’s learning trajectory of having teachers with high or low expectations.

Her research showed that teachers and students perceived teachers to have differential expectations of their Māori and Pasifika students that were lower than expectations for their European/Pākehā and Asian students.

Nane is now working at the Ministry of Education in Auckland as a Student Achievement Function Practitioner. She is finding that the research she has completed has given her the ability to share with the schooling sector how influential teacher expectations can be in classrooms.

“As a PhD student, life can bring personal and emotional challenges that can be overwhelming as you continue to engage in your pursuit to complete a PhD. Christine’s contribution and support, both academically and personally, made this incredible PhD journey possible.”

Christine is passionate about education and student learning. Her research into high expectations and effects on student learning is evident in her support of all her doctoral students and is what has enabled them to achieve at the highest levels.


Anna Kellett, Media Relations Adviser
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