From Phongsaly to PhD, Dr Kanya Souksakoun has come a long way with an #AustraliaAwards Scholarship


Dr Kanya Souksakoun has come along way since his humble beginnings as a child in Phongsaly. Growing up in a remote, poor village in a large family with illiterate parents, Kanya has worked hard to achieve one of the highest levels of academic achievement – the Doctor of Philosophy or ‘PhD’.


Today, Dr Kanya is using his skills and experience to shape the next generation of students at the National University of Laos. As Deputy Director of the Environmental Management Department, Dr Kanya enjoys sharing knowledge and guiding students through their studies.


“I am a lecturer at Department of Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Environmental Sciences of National University of Laos. I am responsible for the lectures on Water Resource and Environmental Management and Watershed Management. As a senior lecturer for the faculty, providing knowledge to and interaction with students is one of my favorite activities.”

Speaking about his childhood, Dr Kanya explains “I grew up in a  very remote and poor village of Phongsaly province. My family are from the Phounoi ethnic minority. Mine was a large family – I had 12 siblings! Although my parents were illiterate, they understood that education was the key for us children to have a successful life, free of poverty. They fully supported and encouraged our education.”

Dr Kanya moved to Vientiane in 1990 as a Buddhist novice with his elder brother monk and studied in temples from grade 3 to grade 11 in 1999. He graduated from the National University of Laos in the field of civil engineering in 2005 and completed a Master of Applied Earth Sciences in 2008 in the Netherlands.

In 2017 he was selected for an Australia Awards Scholarship to begin a Post- Doctoral (PhD) and was living in Australia with his family Australia when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

The first year at The Australian National University was the hardest time for my PhD study because I needed to complete both compulsory coursework subjects in parallel with development of my research proposal. However, my research was distracted by the COVID-19 and subsequent lockdowns and restrictions as well temporary closures of the university campus. My kids also could not go to school due to lockdowns. It was a hard time for me to work from home because of limited access to facilities and distractions from kids, affecting my research progress. The lockdowns forced me to change my learning strategies. I needed to work mostly from 10 pm-8 am when kids were in bed. With very strong support from my family and close supervision, I was able to successfully complete my PhD journey by 2022.”


Despite being busy with study, Dr Kanya has some wonderful memories from his time in Australia, especially living in the capital city, Canberra. “I like the university campus of the ANU, which is equipped with world-class education facilities. Canberra has many green parks and spaces for public use, which allowed me and my family to have picnics, walking and biking together on some weekends.”


With Australia Awards Scholarships now open for study in 2024, Dr Kanya encourages Lao students to apply “These scholarships provide generous educational opportunities for Lao students who are interested to apply. Successful candidates will benefit from studying in prestigious Australian universities in terms of professional knowledge and skills, life experience, international networking, and future employment opportunities. I am sure that you will not know how smart and great you are if you do not try and do your best first! “

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