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Research that connects the past, present and future of decision-making

Dr Zhansulu Baikenova says an economics-focused thesis was a natural fit for her maths skills.

For most research students, undertaking the long and often arduous journey to a PhD is one that’s usually not willingly repeated. 

However after completing her first PhD, Dr Zhansulu Baikenova decided that there was ‘still room for further learning’.

Originally from Kazakhstan, Zhansulu’s postgraduate studies at KIMEP University included international economics and finance before she went on to complete a PhD in mathematical modelling at the Institute of Mathematics.

‘I worked as a lecturer at KIMEP University and later as a risk manager in the banking sector but I understood there was still room for further learning and development. So I applied for and was accepted into PhD program with Deakin’s Faculty of Business and Law,’ she says.

Zhansulu’s PhD research in the Deakin Business School (DBS) relates to the behavioural economics and decision-making theory. She says that choosing to write an economics-focused thesis was a natural fit for her maths skills.

‘My research simultaneously connects the past, present and future in decisions about effort choice,’ she explains.  ‘I implemented into my analysis behavioural concepts as “loss aversion” and “gain fondness” which help to explain some interesting aspects in behaviour of the decision maker. A well-written economic story – with deep understanding of situation – is something I really enjoy working on.’

Zhansulu says that one of the most rewarding aspects of undertaking PhD research is tackling the topic with a unique approach.

‘My work is still far from absolute reality but I am one step closer to being able to fully describe the behaviour of the decision-maker in different circumstances.’

Like many PhD graduates, Zhansulu encountered a raft of challenges around the way to solve and present her research problem but says perseverance played an important role.

‘It was sometimes difficult … and many methods and approaches didn’t work. Just when I thought I’d found a solution it sometimes ended up being the wrong one and I had to start again from the beginning. Very often I was like the [person] in the Russian proverb “lost my way between two trees”. However the point with research is to keep moving forward and not lose focus,’ she reflects.

Now working as a sessional teaching and research associate with DBS, Zhansulu enjoys the discipline of exercising her maths and economics knowledge and also interacting with Deakin students.

‘I enjoy being with people and communicating. I’m also continually learning from my students – they can ask some really tough questions which require a combination of theory and practice skills.’

She adds that one of the great benefits in completing a PhD is the process of being able ‘sharpen’ analytical and problem-solving skills

‘It has given me new knowledge in a field of behavioural economics, microeconomics, game theory and macroeconomics. It has also helped me improve my writing, presentation and time-management skills.’

Interested in working across both industry and academia, Zhansulu is currently enjoying her academic teaching career.

‘It gives me the opportunity to teach students about the tools they can apply when tackling a theory,’ she says. ‘Industry is the place where everything that you learn can then be applied. You look at how it works and how the subjects you studied apply to different cases.  While my PhD is a theoretical thesis it’s given me the ability to develop strong analytics and problem-solving skills and I’m looking forward to utilising these in an industry that matches my research strengths.’

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