Life as a graduate researcher: Ceren Ayas


PhD candidate Ceren Ayas is researching how justice can be used as a key driver for low-carbon transition away from coal.

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Meet the researcher

Tell us about yourself and why you decided to do a PhD at the University of Melbourne

I am originally from Turkey. I completed my undergraduate and graduate studies in sociology at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara. I’m now a PhD candidate at the Faculty of Arts and the Climate and Energy College in Melbourne.

Previously, I worked for the European Climate Foundation and WWF, regarding the climate mitigation efforts in Turkey. The work was rewarding, but I wanted to establish my own perspective and solution. I wanted to understand how justice could be used as a key driver for low-carbon transition away from coal.

Australia was a natural choice for my PhD, because of the coal industry here. My supervisors are Professor Fiona Haines and Professor John Wiseman. They are internationally recognised experts in various aspects of justice in energy transitions.

I moved here with my husband and our four-year-old son.

Describe your PhD research and what you are hoping to discover

Currently, we dictate low carbon transition through mechanisms like the Paris Agreement. I want to discover what could happen if we focus on ameliorating existing injustices to women and local communities. Would this facilitate decarbonisation?

My research provides theoretical and practical insights into how justice is a key driver in low-carbon transitions. It considers the burdens of coal and transitioning away from coal.

I have conducted interviews with NGOs, think tanks and business organisations. The interviews have revealed gender inequalities and intergenerational injustices that are exacerbated by coal. Poor working conditions, with sub-contracting arrangements, further eliminate rights of miners in power and decision making.

What is it like to be an international PhD candidate living in Melbourne?

I highly recommend it. We feel very welcome here. With our son being at kindergarten, we’ve also met people outside the academic world, and connected with other Turkish people through community groups.

Finding accommodation was straightforward. We applied through a sabbatical homes program. This means you can rent a house from an academic who is away on sabbatical.

On weekends we like to camp and hike. Australia is ideal for these pastimes, with beautiful open spaces that are easy to reach within an hour.

What are the most rewarding aspects of your graduate research experience?

It’s a luxury, being able to invest three years of my life doing a deep-dive into something that I am very passionate about. In 2012, I started a PhD in Barcelona researching consensus building on climate mitigation. However, I received a great job offer at the European Climate Foundation, so I stopped my PhD. I wasn’t passionate about my research, so the PhD was hard. Second time around, it is a different experience. My perspective has shifted over time. Instead of focusing on consensus building, I’m now looking at conflicts – conflicts between people that are ‘in the meeting rooms’ and the outsiders, who are experiencing social inequalities.

I also enjoy being part of a cohort of international students at the Climate and Energy College, working across different disciplines.

What are the biggest challenges of your graduate research experience?

The Covid-19 lockdown was a disruption. I was supposed to travel to Turkey to conduct my fieldwork. I conducted the interviews online, but it's not the same. It helped that I'm Turkish and could rely on pre-existing relationships.

Another challenge is the financial constraints of the PhD. I have been able to do some online consultancy work during my PhD, to augment the income I receive from my scholarship. I consult for clients in the US, Europe and Turkey, building on my existing networks.

Where are you hoping your PhD will take you, in terms of future career aspirations?

I would like to go back to the civic sphere. Maybe a role with an NGO. I’d like to contribute to civic efforts of local communities and organisations to thrive in low-carbon technologies, economies and societies.

What advice would you give to people who are considering moving to Melbourne for their PhD?

Don’t think twice! I would highly recommend completing a PhD overseas. Melbourne is a very lively and welcoming place – more so than other places I’ve lived.

First published on 16 February 2022.

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