Take 10 with... Sarah Kapeli

Sarah Kapeli, doctoral candidate and Pacific lecturer with the School of Psychology, gives us 10 minutes of her time to discuss her research into how Pacific knowledge and Pacific worldviews shape and are shaped by our Pacific peoples in areas relevant to psychology.

Sarah Kapeli, doctoral candidate and Pacific lecturer with the School of Psychology

1. Describe your research topic to us in 10 words or less.

Exploring Pacific Psychologies.

2. Now explain it in everyday terms!

Exploring how Pacific knowledge and Pacific worldviews shape and are shaped by our Pacific peoples to make meaning of and respond to a broad range of areas relevant to psychology. Put more simply, exploring Pacific Psychologies allows me to carve out space in (a Western dominated) psychology for our Pacific peoples.

3. Describe some of your day-to-day research activities.

  • Working alongside graduate students on their student-led research projects.
  • Collaborating with other researchers on group-based research projects.
  • Working on my own research projects (data collection, data analysis, manuscript writing, reviewing research literature, seeking out research funding opportunities to develop more Pacific-centric research).
  • Inspiring and encouraging the next generation of Pacific researchers to come through and continue to grow our Pacific research arena. This is hugely important and largely includes meeting with students, speaking engagements, working alongside Tuākana, and addressing equity issues across the University.

4. What do you enjoy most about your research?

Working alongside others. Pacific research is extremely collaborative which means that a lot of our research activities are collective – even research writing. As a Tongan myself (Lapaha, Tongatapu), we recognise tauhi vā as a way of nurturing and maintaining relationships with one another. Across the wider Pacific community, we recognise vā similarly. The essence of tauhi vā is ingrained in me and naturally underpins my research practice. This speaks to why relationships and working alongside others is not only what I enjoy most about research BUT it is the foundation of every aspect of Pacific research.

5. Tell us something that has surprised or amused you in the course of your research.

The painfully beautiful, energetically exhausting, and perfectly imperfect nature of research!

6. How have you approached any challenges you’ve faced in your research?

Research, as life, does not come without its fair share of challenges. But like any challenge, I largely draw upon strength and guidance from God and support and unconditional love from my family. Teu hiva mō fakafeta’i he koe ‘Otua oku lelei! I praise God for surrounding me with an incredible village of support that keep me grounded, always. My journey through academia and research is not about ME as an individual, it is about US as a collective.

More specifically in research, I have been faced with challenges around the dominating Western rhetoric across Pacific research that has not only framed Pacific peoples negatively but has also denigrated the importance of Pacific knowledge, and therefore the research I do. When faced with such challenges I acknowledge that research is interlinked with power, and I take an active role towards (re)claiming the Pacific research space – through developing Pacific research approaches and methodologies as a response to a research system that (continues to) undermine and decimate Pacific knowledges.

7. What questions have emerged as a result of your recent work?

Like many Pacific researchers, I understand research as relational and as a service. These are some of the questions that guide my research and I also encourage those I work alongside to think about…

  • How does our research serve our communities?
  • Who is benefitting from our research?
  •  How does this research challenge institutional understandings of knowledge creation?

8. What kind of impact do you hope your research will have?

I have a strong desire to develop action-focused research – research that leads to practical yet positive changes across and within our Pacific communities, otherwise, why do it at all. I am forever inspired by our Tongan scholar and changemaker, Dr Epeli Hau’ofa, who famously wrote, “My writing, therefore is not something only for a quiet reading in bed or in a library. It is meant to be read aloud so that some of the beautiful and not so beautiful sounds of the voices of the Pacific may be heard and appreciated.”

9. If you collaborate across the faculty or University, or even outside the University, who do you work with and how does it benefit your research?

Throughout my doctoral studies and even as an early career Pacific researcher, I have been fortunate to work alongside many inspiring researchers and changemakers both within and outside of the University and across various disciplines – Dr Sam Manuela, Prof. Chris Sibley, Prof. Suzanne Purdy, Assoc. Prof. Jemaima Tiatia-Seath, and Dr Sione Vaka to name a few. I am grateful for the paths that our Tuākana have paved for us Tēina to break through into the research arena. Working alongside other researchers has not only benefited the research I do, but has contributed to my own growth as a researcher.

10. What one piece of advice would you give your younger, less experienced research self?

Done is better than perfect. As a doctoral student I aspired to write ‘perfectly’. But there is no place for this in research. There will always be critiques, research always develops, and learning is inevitable. Lean into the growth and enjoy the ride.

You can do anything, but not everything. As an early career Pacific researcher, it is very easy to get caught up with providing ‘cultural expertise’, being involved in lots of projects and committees, and taking part in many community events… And while some of these are great, you are but one person and self-care is not only vital, it is essential.

Nothing about us, without us. Pacific research IS important. Do not be afraid to hold the pen, generate knowledge, and pursue a career in research. We need more Pasifika telling our stories to ensure that our Pacific voices are centred in addressing matters concerning our Pacific communities. The space we hold and navigate as Pacific researchers makes a difference not only to our wider Pacific communities, but to those following in our footsteps.