First Generation ASU Graduate Discovers Passion for Political Science, Civil Service and Politics



April 28, 2021

Editor’s Note: This story is one in a series of notable spring 2021 graduate profiles.

A brilliant linguist from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, is one of Arizona State University’s most recent graduates.

ASU doctoral student Rayya Aljarallah graduated during the pandemic, which meant she was isolated from much of her family except for her two daughters, “who were my only ones. partners during my studies “.
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Bonus: like most moms, she’s good at multitasking. Not only did Rayya Aljarallah complete her PhD in Linguistics and Applied Linguistics with a groundbreaking project, but she did so during a pandemic, in a foreign country, mostly alone with two children.

Aljarallah’s thesis examined social media around the Saudi Royal Decree on Women Driving, a 2017 proclamation by King Salman that, for the first time in the country’s history, made the issuance of driver’s licenses legal. to Saudi women. Using a linguistic research method known as Corpus-Assisted Speech Studies which analyzes the frequency of words and groups of words, Aljarallah collected around 6,000 tweets from supporters and opponents of the Decree. . She found that Twitter users’ statements about the decree and its consequences varied depending on their support or opposition to the decree, and that expected negative and positive results were used to justify these divergent positions.

His work has implications in the realm of national discourse, providing insight into how it may be possible to structure public discussions around potentially controversial topics. She defended her thesis on April 2.

Aljarallah’s doctoral advisor, English teacher Karen Adams, praised: “Rayya Aljarallah is not only a gifted doctoral student, she also completed her thesis while going through the many complexities of being a student. international with travel restrictions followed by the spread of COVID -19. Even in the most difficult of times, she has shown remarkable commitment and focus on her research. “

Adams continued, “She was one of a group of students who helped organize lectures on local linguistics and applied linguistics, and she was a presenter at the annual Symposium on Arabic Linguistics held at the ‘ASU in 2018. She also served as a voluntary, unofficial mentor to some of the new Saudi students in the masters program. And she did it all in a context where she looked after her young daughters, negotiated international issues outside under her control and, more recently, faced the difficult context of COVID 19 where so many people like her were estranged from family members who were affected by these issues. “

We spoke to Aljarallah a little more about his path to his doctorate and the plan for the future.

Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study in your field?

Responnse: I enrolled in an elective course, “Advanced Sociolinguistics Studies”, with Karen Adams, one of my first courses at ASU. In this course, I learned about Corpus Linguistics and Critical Discourse Analysis and how they can be used to uncover hidden ideologies and perspectives. I knew right away that this was what I wanted to do for my research. Discovering the ideologies and social problems reflected in the speech has become one of my passions.

Q: What did you learn at ASU – in class or elsewhere – that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A: I have learned that diversity and being exposed to many different perspectives can be powerful. Interaction with students who come from all walks of life with their different backgrounds has led to more creativity in the classroom environment.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I was married to a sun devil and moved after our wedding to Arizona. I accompanied him on one of his campus visits. Aside from the great weather, I fell in love with the friendly environment which made me feel safe and included. I then took a look at their linguistics program to see the subjects offered and was pleasantly surprised to find their faculty extremely competent and very accessible. The sense of community I felt at this school the moment I entered their campus made me so excited and eager to apply.

Q: Which teacher taught you the most important lesson during your time at ASU?

A: Honestly, I was very touched and grateful to all the teachers I had the honor to meet during my studies. The teacher who had a big impact on me was Karen Adams. Professor Adams was a gem of information and knowledge and at the same time very down to earth and accessible. While I was pregnant and working on my thesis, the world was hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time, my husband was abroad, and the confinement that followed forced me to continue this trip alone with a 3-year-old child carrying the other. It was a very difficult time for all of us. Although I faced all of these challenges, the support I received from my teacher, the university, and my friends never made me feel lonely or in danger. I continued to focus on my end goal and present my drafts to my president, Professor Adams, who always provided me with excellent feedback and moral support. Her care for her students showed me how to be a true mentor in the future for my students in Saudi Arabia.

Q: What is the best advice you would give to those who are still in school?

A: While the doctorate is a long term goal, it needs to be broken down into short term goals. It helps to become more focused and to have a sense of accomplishment which will give you the necessary momentum until the end. Focus on what is immediately in front of you. Finally, a PhD can be stressful, so remember to always make time to do things you love.

Q: Where was your favorite place to study power?

A: Before the pandemic: Chandler public libraries (Sunset and Downtown) and the patio of a Starbucks near my daughter’s daycare.

During the pandemic: my patio with a Starbucks drink.

Q: What are your plans after you graduate?

A: I plan to return to Saudi Arabia and be a teacher, bringing with me all the wonderful things that I have learned and seen.

Q: If someone gave you $ 40 million to solve a problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: Find a cure for debilitating illnesses.

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