Wananga landing Wananga landing
Student story

Bianca Couto de Aguiar and Ricardo Pimenta

20 July 2023

"It has been interesting and very rewarding living in such a different diverse culture..."


PhD in Education

Travelling together for postgraduate studies in Australia and New Zealand, and soon embarking on post-doctoral research in Japan, Bianca and Ricardo have had an exciting beginning to their research and sport coaching careers.

Both hailing from Portugal, Bianca had been working as a physical education teacher, and Ricardo as a youth girls’ basketball coach, before they decided to pursue PhD studies.

"As a coach I’ve always been interested in making my athletes better, not in terms of if we won or lost the game, but if they developed their understanding of basketball and if they were playing better than they were in the beginning of the season. My study looked into the experiences of meaning of high school girls playing basketball and the impact of basketball in their mental health," Ricardo says.

"I was interested in understanding more about what influences teachers’ practice and how and if their ways of teaching change over their careers,’ Bianca says. "I would say that questions related to my own practice have sparked the interest in pursuing a PhD."

Following their research supervisor Professor Richard Light from Australia to New Zealand, Bianca and Ricardo ended up enrolling at UC for their doctoral studies in Education.

Both say they have really enjoyed the supportive and "very international" UC community experience.

"It was a very good surprise," Bianca says. "Life in New Zealand has been very different from what I was used to back home but it has been interesting and very rewarding living in such a different diverse culture."

Studying in New Zealand also presented them unique opportunities in both their research and coaching careers.

"What I enjoyed the most about my study was finding how culture and the settings where learning takes place have a deep influence on the development of teachers’ and coaches’ practice and beliefs. I had a lot of fun collecting the data, and field work and interviews were very rewarding and rich," Bianca says.

"I not only had the opportunity to complete my PhD but had also the opportunity to experience coaching in New Zealand. I was a gymnastics coach at the Christchurch School of Gymnastics, and while doing my PhD I had the opportunity to be a Tutor at UC, teaching theoretical foundations of sports coaching and teaching."

"I definitely enjoyed the field work," Ricardo says. "The methodology I used allowed me to be involved with my participants and be around them all the time. This helped me understand New Zealand basketball, something that was new to me, and why basketball was so fun for the girls and the impact it had on their lives.

"I was able to develop my basketball coaching experience because of the opportunities around Christchurch. I was able to coach at St. Andrews College, coach the UC women’s basketball team at the Varsity games, work with the Canterbury Rep teams, and be invited to a U14 NZ national basketball camp. I was also a University Tutor, and a Personal trainer and Group Fitness class instructor at the UC Rec Centre."

They also got to be part of the International Game Sense for Teaching and Coaching Conference when it was hosted by UC in 2015. Both were speakers and abstract reviewers in the programme, allowing them to present and publish their research through a global platform.

Their studies have also given them a lot of personal benefits in their individual sports and life. Bianca and Ricardo ended up getting engaged while studying at UC.

Since completing their PhD journey, Bianca and Ricardo now have post-doctoral research positions at Waseda University, Japan, through Professor Richard Light. They will both be continuing their coaching research and get to be amongst exciting international sporting events such as the 2019 Rugby World Cup and 2020 Olympic Games.

"I would like to thank Professor Richard Light for his guidance throughout my PhD journey. I believe his experience and advice made me grow and helped me become a better academic, better coach, and a better person. For that I’m really grateful and I look forward to keep working with him in the future," Ricardo says.

When giving advice to other PhD students following their successes, both say that passion for your subject is essential.

"I believe if you have a genuine interest in researching what you want, you’ll be able to work harder to find the answers to your research questions. I’m always looking to improve myself as a coach so I can provide the best possible experiences to my athletes," Ricardo says.

"It takes a lot of hard work and commitment, but it is also very rewarding, so make sure you do what you enjoy and what will make you proud at the end," Bianca says.

As for their future work, both Bianca and Ricardo look forward to continuing their careers as both academics and coaches in sports and physical education.

More student stories
Privacy Preferences

By clicking "Accept All Cookies", you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyse site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts.