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Honours graduate Tisiola Talalima shares how the University helped her help others

Thursday 16 December 2021 8:51am

Tisiola One image
Microbiology graduate Tisiola Talalima.

“The beginning was the hardest part but as time went on, I learnt how to juggle both personal and study expectations, which made it so rewarding to come out the other side,” Tisiola Talalima says.

Having recently completed her honours degree year, School of Biomedical Sciences graduate Tisiola reflects on what the past few years at the Department of Microbiology and Immunology have meant to her.

“I remember how exciting the initial phase of arriving on campus was but then things became more complex and challenging.”

Tisola, who has Tongan, Polish and Chinese heritage, was initially unsure of what to expect coming to the school, as well as how this would help grow the passion she had developed for science at high school.

“Each of the opportunities the University gave me helped build me up for the next one, adding steppingstones to my future. I was so glad to have got involved with postgraduate studies, the Pacific community and other staff and students.”

She says it was great that the University offered up a variety of science papers in first-year because this gave her the opportunity to explore microbiology.

“Originally, I had a deep interest in Biochemistry, but this changed as the years went on and I found myself attracted to the area of microbiology.”

After finding her passion, she received plenty of support and guidance from the School’s Pacific Islands Centre as well as Dr Jen Robson, who encouraged her to complete an internship with “Mastaplex” at the campus’ Centre of Innovation.

During her year interning, she was inspired to return to the University to complete her honours and, with the help of the Pacific Islands Centre and Dr Robson, she received the Toloa Scholarship which enabled her to do this.

From there she met her supervisor, Dr Htin Lin Aung, who shared with his research into Pacific communities and opened her eyes to how research can support her own community.

“Each of the opportunities the University gave me helped build me up for the next one, adding steppingstones to my future. I was so glad to have got involved with postgraduate studies, the Pacific community and other staff and students.”

She shares that she always felt her “needs were being met” and that she could reach out for both academic and personal support whenever it was needed.

She wanted her research to give back to the communities who had been so good to her and, with Dr Aung’s support and inspiration, she began researching why Pacific people are disproportionately affected by Tuberculosis (TB), the globe’s leading cause of death by infectious disease.

Tisiola’s honours project looked at the methods available to track and manage the spread of the disease in Pacific communities that desperately needed health interventions, as well as why there exists a specific strain of TB which only impacts Pacific communities.

“This has been happening over the past 15 years and there is still so much more to investigate, which my honours year of course could not cover.

“Moving forward I would like to continue down the Pacific health pathway as I would love to support the wider Pacific Islands and move the body of knowledge forward.”

Tisiola was awarded one of the University’s 20Twenties Young Alumni Awards for her honours research, involvement in the Pacific Outreach Programme for Sciences (POPS)and her part in the inaugural Måür lelei: Health and Wellbeing Together Fono in South Auckland which connected the community with her research.

Kōrero by Kelsey Schutte, Communications Adviser, School of Biomedical Sciences