NU Step to PhD: Aliya Assubayeva, PhD graduate in Public Policy16.06.2022
Our next NU Step to PHD guest is Aliya Assubayeva, a Ph.D graduate at NU GSPP.
Her thesis contributes to understanding how water security is perceived in Central Asia and whether river basin management can strengthen water security in Kazakhstan. As part of the doctoral program, she completed research internships at Oulu University (Finland) and IHE Delft Institute for Water Education (Netherlands) in 2021. Aliya is an active member of the Science Council, which is the executive and decision-making body for research activities at NU. She also supports student initiatives such as the Research Peer Advising and moderates a platform for discussions about water in Central Asia called Water Café.
Aliya, congratulations on defending your thesis. Tell us about your doctoral research?
Thank you! My Ph.D. thesis contributes to understanding how water security is perceived in Central Asia, what water security priorities for each Central Asia country are suggested by scholars and practitioners, and whether river basin management can strengthen water security in Kazakhstan.
Our exploratory mixed research design integrated qualitative and quantitative data collection and analysis and consisted of four phases. The bibliometric analysis and the content analysis of scholarly literature followed by the Delphi survey among regional and international experts aimed to explore water security priorities in each Central Asia country. I also conducted multinomial logistic regression to reveal behavioral patterns in setting water security priorities and interviews with stakeholders to analyze river basin management in Kazakhstan.
Why did you choose a research topic on water safety and management of water basins?
Transboundary water resources are vital in ensuring food, energy, and environmental security in Central Asia. Water security has been widely discussed as one of the security risks because of global warming, population growth, intense industrialization, and rapid urbanization.
Strengthening water security by improving river basin management in Kazakhstan was proposed in scholarly literature and by practitioners from the Delphi survey. Kazakhstan is a pioneer in Central Asia in introducing a river basin approach to managing water resources. As you might know, the country’s territory is divided into 8 basins based on hydrological characteristics, where 7 of them are transboundary. About 20 years ago, the river basin approach was introduced in Kazakhstan; exploring what works and what challenges exist is crucial. So exploring what works and what challenges exist is crucial.
How sensitive is this topic for Central Asia and what is the applied value of your work?
Water security was always crucial for Central Asia countries sharing one of the complex transboundary river basins because of the uneven distribution of surface water resources and interconnected water infrastructure. Moreover, the issue of water allocation is becoming an urgent policy problem between upstream and downstream countries in the region. Despite the many metrics and indexes devised to measure water security, there is not yet much consensus on how water security should be measured or the best way to do so.
From a research perspective, the thesis attempted to fill the gap in the conceptualization and operationalization of the water security concept in the context of Central Asia.
From the policy perspective, water security priorities for each Central Asia country were identified that might help to reach a common understanding of water security in the region considering the national needs and the transboundary complexity of river basin systems and to prevent water conflicts in the region because of growing and competing for water demands.
What could you tell us about the learning process at NU?
The Ph.D. program in Public Policy is intense, competitive, and research-driven. However, we also had courses in the 1st and 2nd year followed by qualification exams. Ph.D. students at NU have an opportunity to work as research assistants and teaching assistants. For example, in my 1st and 2nd year of the Ph.D. program, I worked as a research assistant establishing Sustainable Development Solutions Network at NU. In contrast, in my 3rd and 4th years, I worked as a teaching assistant in a critical thinking course for undergraduate students.
As part of the doctoral program, I completed research internships at Oulu University (Finland) and IHE Delft Institute for Water Education (Netherlands) in 2021. The program included: discussing, applying, and critically reflecting on multiple approaches to water governance, river basin management, and transboundary water cooperation. It was also a great chance to work with leading scholars in the field with similar research interests. With the support of my supervisor, I published several scientific articles in international and regional scientific journals and participated in and presented scientific achievements at global and regional scientific conferences and seminars.
NU students adhere to an active social life, have you managed to combine research and other areas of life?
Yes, indeed, social life at NU is exciting and engaging. For example, we have more than 100 student clubs, Student Government, and many entertainment events organized by students. Indicatively, I was one of the mentors in a student initiative called the Research Peer Advising, where we shared our research experience and knowledge with students interested in involving in research projects. I am also a student representative at the Research Council, the executive and decision-making body for research activities at NU.
As I mentioned, Ph.D. students at NU can undertake teaching assistant duties. In my case, I conducted practical seminars in critical thinking courses for more than 150 students in 2020-2022. I was honored to receive the Teaching Excellence Award at NU in 2021.
How did you manage to combine all of this? What is your secret?
Planning, discipline, and hard work.
Considering the high workload of students, the university creates all conditions to sustain the health and well-being of students. For example, we can use the facilities of the Athletic Center, Health and Wellness Center, and University Medical Center on campus.
Please, tell us about your future plans?
I plan to continue conducting research in water policy, water governance, and sustainable development. After graduation, I will be involved in consultancy at one of the leading development banks.
What would you wish for NU Graduates-2022?
NU has a unique environment of ambitious, intelligent, and talented students. I sincerely congratulate graduates on such an incredible achievement. I know how it is challenging to study at NU. I wish them all to be agile, resilient, adaptable, and curious.