Doctoral study in Health Sciences

Why study with us?

  • Our lecturers and researchers are regarded as experts in their fields.
  • We offer outstanding facilities.
  • The University of Auckland is New Zealand’s leading university in the QS World University Rankings 2020, the only local university in the top 100.
  • The university is also the highest ranked in the country for its global reputation amongst academics and employers.
  • In the QS Stars rating, the university is rated Five Stars Plus for excellence in research, employability, teaching, facilities, internationalism, innovation and inclusiveness.
  • We are ranked New Zealand’s most innovative university in 2017 by Reuters.
  • We offer Postgraduate Research Student Support (PReSS) funding for research expenses.

Study with us and you’ll work closely with clinical and academic staff to investigate the determinants of a healthy life at many ages and stages. You will be able to implement changes in clinical practice that will make a difference to people's lives now and for generations to come. Choose health sciences and you’ll help to translate research discoveries into strategies that enable people to prevent and manage major health problems in the 21st century.

Research opportunities

When you join the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences or the Liggins Institute for your doctorate in Health Sciences, you'll become part of a high-calibre research community and have the opportunity to publish papers, attend international conferences and develop your network in academia and industry. You’ll be undertaking an advanced course of independent study and original research, presented in the form of a thesis.

There is much support available, including from outside the university, and we have strong links to the Crown Research Institutes of New Zealand.

Financially, you’ll have access to PReSS, which offers our doctoral candidates funding above and beyond scholarships or grants.  

Our people

Pursue your topic with us and benefit from exceptional standards of support and supervision from internationally recognised researchers.

In your independent research study, you will be directed and supported by a supervisor.

Merryn Gott
Professor of Health Sciences and Supervisor

Merryn has a particular interest in research that looks at how to better support people with palliative care needs and their families and whanau. She directs the Te Arai Palliative Care and End of Life Research Group, the only bicultural palliative care research group internationally. The group is committed to using participatory research methods to promote equity in access to palliative care. Merryn supervises students from a range of disciplinary backgrounds, including social sciences and nursing.

In 2014, Merryn was awarded the New Zealand Association of Scientists’ Research Medal, which recognises outstanding fundamental or applied research in the physical, natural or social sciences. In 2016, Merryn was recognised as NEXT magazine Woman of the Year for Health and Science.

Associate Professor Melody Smith - nee Oliver

Melody’s research focuses on understanding links between the environment and health, with a focus on children’s physical activity, active travel, and independent mobility and use of objective and child-centred research methods. She leads the Neighbourhoods for Active Kids study, using participatory geographic information systems to understand associations between children’s health behaviours and neighbourhood experiences, exposure, and perceptions.

Her projects include Te Ara Mua – Future Streets (evaluation of neighbourhood-wide infrastructural interventions for improved walking and cycling, Kids in the City, and The Secret Recipe for Active School Travel. She is current chair of the Adolescent Health Research Group and holds a prestigious Sir Charles Hercus Health Research Fellowship.

Distinguished Professor Jane Harding
Professor of Neonatology and Supervisor

Jane is interested in how events and interventions during pregnancy, birth and the newborn period affect the mother’s health and the baby’s growth and development. She has been looking at the interaction of nutrients and growth factors, perinatal glucose regulation, and the long-term consequences of treatments given around the time of birth.

She was awarded the Health Research Council of New Zealand's Beaven Medal in 2016 and the Norman J. Siegel New Member Outstanding Science Award from the American Pediatric Society (APA) in 2017.

Past research topics

The Te Arai Palliative Care and End of Life Research Group is the only bicultural research group internationally. We conduct a range of projects exploring advanced ageing, palliative and end of life care, with a particular focus on equity. We come from diverse academic and clinical backgrounds and use a range of methodologies, including creative social research methods. For more information about our research, please see our blog: Te Arai Research Group

Current and recent projects include:

Te Pakaketanga: Living and Dying in Advanced Age (PI Merryn Gott; HRC funded)This project explored the end of life circumstances of people dying in advanced age from the perspective of a bereaved family/whanau carer who they nominated to take part in the project before their death. Using in-depth qualitative methods we provided unique new information regarding the end of life experiences of Maori and non-Maori dying in advanced age and the needs of their whanau/family carers.

Social connectedness among older people in NZ (PI Merryn Gott; National Science Challenge funded)
We are working in partnership with Age Concern NZ to explore how older people from diverse cultural groups understand and experience loneliness and social isolation. We are also examining the impact of their Accredited Visiting Service on wellbeing.

VOICEs-NZ (PI Merryn Gott and Andrew Old; Auckland Academic Health Alliance funded)
We are working with Auckland District Health Board to pilot a new survey method to collect information from bereaved family/whanau members of patients dying under their care. We are exploring if this approach is acceptable to families and whanau, can provide useful information to inform service improvement at ADHB, and whether it can be embedded into routine practice.

‘The benefits and burdens of hospital admissions for people with palliative care needs’. PhD conducted by Dr Jackie Robinson and supervised by Professor Merryn Gott, Dr Clare Gardiner, and Professor Christine Ingleton.

‘Bargaining and Balancing. Living with night-time CPAP for sleep apnoea. PhD conducted by Dr Kim Ward and supervised by Professor Merryn Gott and A/Prof Karen Hoare.

‘Interventions Pre-conception and During Pregnancy to Improve Glucose Tolerance and Prevent Gestational Diabetes’ | Supervised by Professor Philip Baker, Professor Mark Vickers and Dr Clare Reynolds

‘Early life nutrition, altered inflammatory responsiveness and the path to programmed obesity and metabolic dysfunction’ | Supervised by Professor Mark Vickers and Dr Clare Reynolds

‘Transferring research knowledge into practice for improving survival and long-term good health for babies at risk of being born preterm’  | Supervised by Professor Caroline Crowther

‘Early-life high-fat and voluntary physical activity affect body composition, bone phenotype and gene expression in the male rat’ | Supervised by Dr Justin O’Sullivan

Meet a graduate: Jacqualine Robinson

I had been working in palliative care for many years when I decided to embark on a PhD at the University of Auckland.  I was inspired to work with Professor Merryn Gott at the School of Nursing who had recently joined the University from the United Kingdom.

Having worked in hospital palliative care for some time, I had become curious why the acute hospital was considered by many as an unsuitable place of care for those nearing the end of their life. An integrative review of the literature revealed a gap in our knowledge of patient and family experiences of palliative care in a hospital setting, with a strong focus on the negative aspects of care with no reference to any benefits for patients or families.

I chose a mixed methods approach, starting with the qualitative phase which consisted of interviewing patients about their experiences of being in hospital. Unsurprisingly, I found that patients experience significant patient burden being in hospital most of which were associated with the hospital environment. However, they also experienced benefits associated with feeling safe, getting/feeling better, relief for family and receiving support to manage at home. In addition, all but one participant expressed a preference to go to hospital rather than to remain at home even if they could have accessed the care they got in hospital at home. Using a quantitative approach, the second phase of my study surveyed patients who had been admitted to hospital with palliative care needs. I found that those living in deprivation were much more likely to experience benefits being in hospital. Furthermore, feeling safe; an identified benefit of being in hospital from the qualitative phase of my research was a significant predictor of people having a preference to return to hospital.

Doing a PhD was one of the most difficult but yet rewarding things I have taken on. The support I received from the School of Nursing, my supervisor Professor Merryn Gott and my colleagues in the Te Arai Palliative and End of Life Research Group was second to none. Developing my academic career has truly enhanced my practice as a palliative care nurse practitioner. Combining clinical work with research is an exciting change in my nursing career and I am so glad to have had the opportunity.  

Find a scholarship

Contact us

Do you want to chat further about your studies? Contact us using the details below.

Within Auckland: (09) 923 7071
Outside Auckland: 0800 61 62 65
Overseas: +64 9 373 7513

For general queries about the programme, please contact Student Hubs.
For applications to the Liggins Institute, please email

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