Meet our students

Our postgraduate students are following their research passion, advancing their careers and developing specialist skills and knowledge. Hear from our students about what postgraduate life is like at the University of Auckland.

LiWen Choy

Architecture student LiWen Choy in Architecture studio

The Summer Research Scholarship was an opportunity to discover a deep interest for new forms of technology in architectural representation. The support and insight I gained gave me the confidence to pursue postgraduate study.

After completing a Summer Research Scholarship at the University, LiWen research explored architecture and film for his Master of Architecture (Professional) thesis. LiWen is now working as a Concept Designer at Weta Workshop in Wellington.

“I would like my research to contribute to a critical understanding of film practice and architecture. I hope it will enable architectural students to expand their research into these fields, and pursue careers in the entertainment industry.

“The masters programme provides an important incubation period for students discovering their voice as designers. I needed time to discover a potential career as a production designer/art director in the entertainment industry. Postgraduate study has given me the freedom to experiment with potential interests, while providing guidance along a strong backbone of architectural inquiry.

“I have met great people during my time as a masters student; some will become lifelong friends and many move on to amazing endeavours. I have learnt something from each person and that is what I cherish the most.”

Chloe Manga (Ngāti Kahu and Te Rarawa)

Law student Chloe Manga

I am really grateful to have a supportive supervisor who has given me freedom to write about issues of personal and academic importance to me.

Chloe is studying towards a Master of Laws. Her research on the need to secure greater legal recognition for Māori rights uses the experiences of her own iwi, Ngāti Kahu, as a case study. 

“I have always been passionate about Māori and indigenous rights and my work as an undergraduate research assistant on two Marsden projects (Onscreen Indigeneity: The case of Māori Television; and The Claimants’ views on the Treaty Settlement Process) influenced my decision to pursue postgraduate studies and in particular, in the area of Māori legal issues and on the premise that I had the freedom to write from a more anthropological basis for my master’s thesis. 

“I am fortunate to have support and access to materials that detail perspectives and experiences of Ngāti Kahu in the settlement process. This adds a unique insight into what is a very important legal and political issue. I hope my research can encourage further discussion on these issues, and perhaps, how these same ideas can be applied to Māori legal rights generally. 

“Being involved with Te Rakau Ture (Māori Law Students Association) and Ngā Tauira Māori (Māori Students Association) has made my experience as a young Māori woman at the University an enjoyable and worthwhile one. I am also grateful for the expertise, guidance and support of the academics here.

 “I am stoked to have Dr Claire Charters as my supervisor: a successful Māori woman who is extremely knowledgeable in Māori and indigenous legal issues. Claire has been amazing and very supportive of not only my ideas, but my journey throughout. For me, having a Māori legal woman as my supervisor was very important. When I explain my ideas and my experiences, I do not feel isolated or as if I’m an ‘other’. Being Māori also, she is part of this worldview, she lives and breathes it every day – she ‘gets it’.”

Moira Clunie

student Moira Clunie

This programme is providing a space to reflect on and deepen my practice. It is a great mix of theory and practical application: allowing us to incorporate our work experience and lived knowledge with what we know from the evidence and published work.

Moira is studying towards a Master of Social and Community Leadership.

“Over the last decade, I’ve held leadership roles in non-profit organisations. A common thread in this work has been change: designing for social change, making changes in the way organisations and systems work, and supporting people to change their attitudes and behaviours. This programme appealed to me because of its grounding in social justice and ethics, and its blend of social innovation, leadership and formal research skills. I also like how the programme is structured to allow a wide range of choices to support different professional interests.

“I’m planning to undertake my thesis on suicide prevention, focusing on community-led responses from rainbow/LGBTI+ communities. Despite being at significantly higher risk of suicidal behaviour than other groups in New Zealand, the rainbow population is not well recognised or resourced within national suicide prevention efforts. I currently work in this area and have been directly engaged with the issue of rainbow suicide prevention for the last six years. Because of this, I’m anticipating that my research will have direct practical application in informing how programmes and advocacy approaches are developed.

“It’s been exciting to be part of the first group to undertake this masters programme. There has been real scope for getting to know where my classmates have come from and what they are interested in. We’ve formed connections that have been supportive and fun.”

Social and Community Leadership event

Clark Tipene (Ngāpuhi)

Arts student Clark Tipene

The best thing about postgraduate study is the ability to study something you are interested in. It requires a lot of discipline, determination and grit, but it’s worth it.

After completing a Summer Research Scholarship examining the Social Attitudes Survey on citizenship and political attitudes and a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) at the University of Auckland, Clark is now undertaking a Master of Arts in Sociology.

Clark’s masters research looks at the ways young New Zealanders think about their own political participation. 

“Doing a summer scholarship showed me how challenging – and therefore rewarding – research can be. It made sense to continue studying for a masters since I’ve always enjoyed learning new things.

“By interviewing young people across New Zealand, I’m getting welcome insight into the reasons why they are reluctant to vote, but more eager to participate in other ways. One of the most important flow-on effects of my research is how we can get young people more politically engaged and involved. That’s useful not only for political parties but also policy analysts, media and the general public.

“I intend to pursue doctoral studies in the near future, which I think will be the ultimate test of everything I’ve learnt over the past five years. During my time at University, I’ve been a Teaching Assistant and Tuākana mentor, and eventually I want to make a career of teaching because it’s what I enjoy doing most.

 “At University, we get the rare privilege of spending our time trying to make the world a better place. Auckland has been a great place to do that.”

Clark is a recipient of a University of Auckland Māori Postgraduate Scholarship and a Dean of Arts Masters Thesis Scholarship.

Ninna Granucci

The University offers a vibrant environment for learning and getting in contact with innovative technology.

Ninna’s PhD research in microbial fermentation has led to the development of technology that produces a range of functional flours made from fruit and vegetable by-products. The flours are high in protein, dietary fibre and vitamins, and use by-products (pulp, peels and seeds) that would normally end up in landfill.

With the support of the Velocity programme at the University’s Centre of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Ninna and her supervisor, Associate Professor Silas Villas-Boas, started Green Spot Technologies, which has a pilot plant for the production of the flours and is scaling up to commercial production.

“The amount of food that is lost or wasted every year is inconsistent with the global population growth rate and future food demands. Therefore, we need to challenge this situation, and nothing is better than science to propose solutions. My research project is all about innovation, and the Velocity programme was the catalyst for my development as an entrepreneur.

“Having a PhD opens a wide range of professional possibilities and the chance to beinvolved in problem-solving projects. It is the perfect qualification to get the set of technical and personal skills to work in my area of interest. Working with supportive supervisors who are world-leaders in their field has also played an important role in my professional development.”

Ninna is a PhD candidate in Biological Sciences from Brazil and is a recipient of a Bioresource Processing Alliance (BPA) scholarship.

Jamie Bell

Jamie Bell

I see postgraduate study as an investment in my career, as it allows me to spend time learning and using the most advanced algorithms and techniques.

Jamie is a PhD candidate in Computer Systems Engineering. Jamie is working on the collaborative MBIE Multipurpose Orchard Robotics Project, which is developing robots to pollinate and harvest in kiwifruit and apple orchards. Jamie’s part of the project is making the robots drive around the orchards autonomously, while they detect fruit, flowers and other objects.

“Artificial intelligence and robotics is advancing at such a rate, that the theory I learnt as an undergraduate 10 years ago has been superseded. As the pace of innovation continues to increase, further study will become more and more important for engineers and scientists in my field.

“The great thing about the robotics group at the University of Auckland is that we are working with the most advanced techniques and applying these to problems in the real world: it makes my work both interesting and satisfying. Waking up and not knowing if what I am going to do today is going to work or not makes this research more of an adventure. I love working with supervisors who are so supportive and shape projects that are a balance of practical applications and pushing the boundaries of what is possible.

“I work with Robotics Plus, the commercialisation partner for our research. We believe that in several years, we could see these robots working in the field. This could lead to higher quality crops, less wastage and robot exports. There is potential for the research to be applied in other industries, including logistics and fulfilment, transport and healthcare. My team, Boon, who won the 2016 Velocity University Research prize, are looking into some of these opportunities for the best potential fit for robotics.”

Thilini Jayasinghe

Thilini Jayasinghe in the lab at Liggins Institute

When I started, I was the only one researching microbiome in my institute and I had to learn everything: the lab and analysis techniques. I have my supervisor to thank, he is the one who pushed me hard and I learnt a lot in my first year, and now I am teaching these techniques to other PhD students.

Thilini Jayasinghe is a  PhD candidate in Health Sciences. Originally from Sri Lanka, Thilini came to the University of Auckland after completing a research masters at the University of Sydney.

Thilini’s work at the Liggins Institute looks at the link between diabetes and the microbes in the intestines of children who are born very pre-term.

“Microbiomes are connected with everything: obesity, diabetes, autism, your emotions, depression. Previous research has shown that these pre-term children have a higher risk of developing diabetes. We now know they have different gut microbes to full-term babies and see links between these microbes and their functions with insulin-resistant pathways.

“My research is part of a large, complex, multi-disciplinary project. We not only check the microbiome of these babies, but also their nutrition, metabolites and other biochemical parameters, as well as collecting information about their physical activity. It’s team work so you get support from other people – especially the supervisors and other team members.

“When you’re doing a PhD, it’s very intensive, you don’t have time to think about other jobs. Having a scholarship helps a lot and was essential for me to do my PhD.

“We are really lucky, we have money in our University PReSS accounts* each year to attend international conferences and workshops. I have presented my results at different conferences,including the Wellcome Trust Microbiome Conference in Cambridge, UK, where I was awarded the Student Oral: Best Presentation Award. I also attended a microbiological data analysis course at the University of Chicago, and the PReSS account covered my flights and accommodation.”

Thilini is a recipient of a University of Auckland Doctoral Scholarship.

*The University PReSS accounts provide an annual research fund to cover research costs such as conference attendance and travel. PReSS accounts

Andy Cosgrove

Student Andy Cosgrove in the University’s Health and Performance Clinic

Unlike similar programmes, this masters allows students to have active experience with clinical clients. It makes the programme challenging and offers an invaluable opportunity.

Andy is an international student from the US who has recently completed a Master of Science in Clinical Exercise Physiology, which combines taught courses and a dissertation with practical training in the University’s Health and Performance Clinic.

“The exercise physiology field is incredibly broad, and the programme allows for a wide range of experiences and exposure, letting you discover what parts are most interesting and exciting. The programme offers an academic and professional environment to build the knowledge and practical skills necessary for certification as a Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologist with the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) or Clinical Exercise Physiology New Zealand (CEPNZ), including all of the practical hours.

“My particular interests have focused on cardiac and cancer rehabilitation. Those who have undergone cancer treatment are often left with lasting effects and in serious need of long-term recovery options after the harsh treatments of surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy are completed.

My end goal is to own a fitness centre, where part would be dedicated to helping people, such as cancer patients, better their own health once it has taken a hit.

“The adjustment to postgraduate study is a big one. I used several of the Library services, including support with database research and reference management tools, which helped me bridge the technology gap from my undergraduate study 12 years ago. As well as the professors, who are there for advanced guidance, one of the greatest resources has been my classmates. They are the start of my professional network; they each have different strengths and interests, making them the best sounding boards for working things through.”

Andy was supported in his study by a Post 9/11 GI-Bill – US Veterans Benefit.

Naz Ebrahimi

Naz Ebrahimi PhD candidate in Bioengineering

I am constantly engaged in discovering solutions to research questions. Finding new answers becomes almost an everyday habit.

“As a bachelors and masters student I developed good bench skills, and decided to do a PhD to learn how to carry out research. When I began the PhD, I realised that my previous study was mostly about the knowns in science and a PhD is actually about the unknowns. My days never get dull and I’m always being challenged with new questions.” 

Naz is PhD candidate in Bioengineering at  the Auckland Bioengineering Institute (ABI) . Her research uses both lab experimentation and computational modelling to study the early stages of heart development. Her aim is to make a computational model of heart development using experimental data. 

“Abnormal growth of the heart during embryogenesis causes various congenital heart defects. Decades of studies have identified key factors at different stages of heart development; however, the underlying mechanisms controlling heart development are still unclear. I hope that my research will enable us to ultimately study congenital heart defects in order to develop preventative and treatment approaches. 

“ABI has been the ideal place for my PhD research: I can work in a multi-disciplinary environment and I have the chance to combine experimental and computational modelling approaches. I’ve had a chance to meet amazing people at the University of Auckland, including having the honour of being supervised by Professor Peter Hunter, who provided me with this great research opportunity.  The academics here are highly skilled, internationally recognised and I have learnt so much from them.”

Kevin Jing

Business student Kevin Jing

My friends who have a Master of Commerce encouraged me to take this opportunity, although none of them said it was easy. I think this is the experience of a lifetime.

Kevin is a Master of Commerce in Finance student from China. He is researching the potential impact of political connections on the valuation of Chinese-listed firms.

“Connections between businesses and governments are prevalent all over the world. While most existing studies focus on the US market, my research may provide novel evidence for the potential impact of political connections. Proving such impact could help Asian investors to converge mainstream finance theories, and more importantly, price firms more accurately.

 “Postgraduate study at the University of Auckland has offered me the opportunity to learn from world-class leading researchers, work closely with top performing students, and improve myself in all aspects. I’ve also had so much help from the postgraduate advisers: they have provided excellent advice with course planning and have been supportive throughout my postgraduate studies.”