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Talofa lava! Kia orana! Malo e lelei! Fakaalofa lahi atu! Bula vinaka! Namaste! Malo ni! Halo ola keta! Mauri! Fakatalofa atu!

Warm Pacific greetings

Enlarge your canoe, together with other Pasifika students at Otago. Pasifika students in the School of Biomedical Sciences (BMS) play an important role in the future of our Pasifika communities. As either an undergraduate or postgraduate student, the voyage and journey you take in BMS will deepen your understanding in your chosen field and give you the opportunity to explore many career pathways.

Whether you want to be a researcher, a scientist, or work in the health sector, there are many people who can support you along the way.

Meet some of our students

Keresoma Leaupepe

Keresoma  Leaupepe working in the labKeresoma Leaupepe's interest in health and disease, and in particular how they impact on his Samoan community, has been his motivation all through his study at the University of Otago.

Karesoma, whose father is from Faleasiu and whose mother is from Tufulele, studied at the National University of Samoa after graduating from Avelele College as second to the dux and top science student. When Keresoma received a scholarship from NZAid he had no trouble deciding which university in New Zealand he wanted to study. Beginning his studies in 2012 Keresoma first found studying at Otago challenging. "It was difficult to adapt in the new environment and lifestyle, and it did have an impact on my studies" he explains. However, he quickly found his way and says, "Otago is the best place to study in the whole world. Not only for its academic reputation and teaching, but also for the environment surrounded by amazing scenery and, of course, lifestyle".

Now well and truly settled into the Otago way of life, Keresoma has completed his Bachelor of Biomedical Sciences (Hons) degree.

Keresoma chose this degree as it allowed him to study in a wide range of areas including genetics, anatomy, biochemistry and pathology. "I was also interested in disease based research, where we can look at specifically the molecular level of a particular disease"

Keresoma extended his skills by undertaking a summer studentship looking at genetic variants of Interleukin 23 Receptor, that are associated with various auto-inflammatory diseases, such as Crohn's disease, Gout and Rheumatic Heart Fever. "Having the opportunity to do research on gout and rheumatic heart fever in the Polynesian population is exciting and interesting. I can't wait to give back to my community from all the knowledge that I have learnt from the University of Otago" Keresoma says.

Sa'Ane Meki

Sa'Ane Meki imageSa'Ane Meki has now completed BBiomedSc degree, majoring in Molecular Basis of Health & Disease. Originally from Fiji, Sa'Ane's home is now in Auckland. She travelled South for her education as family members are Otago graduates and she wanted to follow in their footsteps - she also wanted to gain independence and "has learned heaps - just like learning how to save money!". Sa'Ane comments that "it is cool to learn so much more about life than just facts".

The BBiomedSc degree appealed to Sa'Ane because of its range of subjects: she particularly enjoyed biochemistry and research, particularly in the drug discovery/treatment area. Some of her undergraduate papers included research proposals which informed Sa'Ane of some of the knowledge gaps and the areas where new medical treatments are needed. "Knowledge and discovery are led by researchers and it would be cool to contribute to new discoveries that lead to an improvement in health care".

Sa'Ane has enjoyed all her papers and the way they were linked. This helped her gain understanding of the complex topics, as she used the information from more than one paper to understand concepts, such as cell signalling. Sa'Ane's advice for future students, particularly those from a Pasifika background, is to explore all the options. When she came to university, Sa'Ane didn't know about the BBiomedSc degree - now she is finding that there are many doors available to students and she encourages all students to "aim for the stars". She also recommends balancing study with fun and taking time to rest and refresh yourself.

Sa'Ane has several secrets for success. She is very organised and utilises a daily 'to do' list - noting the pleasure there is in crossing off tasks when they are completed. Time management is important and she ensured all assignments were started early and finished at least two days early. To maximise the learning opportunities from lectures, Sa'Ane first listens to lectures, then writes notes, then finally explains these notes (out loud) to herself. She finds this hearing-writing-speaking method to be invaluable in consolidating what she has been taught. It obviously worked well for her as she looks forward to the next step in her career.

Rahul Das

Rahul completed a Master's in Physiology in 2010 and worked as a Teaching Fellow for the Department of Physiology for 3 years before deciding to go back to study in 2013. 

He came to the University of Otago to challenge himself and to explore new experiences. He was keen to experience the University's world-class reputation first hand. 

The things he enjoyed most about his study was the people he met and the opportunities provided during the different stages of his life in Dunedin. He felt privileged to be able to head into a career that he knew he enjoyed.

The most challenging aspect was being away from family and in a totally foreign and new environment. But he was lucky to meet some great people whom he calls his “Dunedin family”.His advice for other students is to remain balanced. Rahul spends time with friends and plays Rugby and Otago Touch. He also plays the Indian drums (tabla). His future plans include finishing his medical training, keeping up his sporting endeavours and to travel and experience new cultures.
His recommendations to 1st year health science students are to make the most of the amazing resources and amazing support people involved in the Pasifika framework and to take all the opportunities that you are presented with and make the most of them."Dream big. Work hard!"

Undergraduate student support

Each of the five departments in the School of Biomedical Sciences has a staff member to support Pasifika students. These staff members meet regularly to discuss how best to ensure that your time spent in the school is both successful and enjoyable.

There is a growing number of Pasifika students enrolled in the Bachelor of Science (BSc) and Bachelor of Biomedical Science (BBiomedSc) degrees at the School. Our staff member can support you during your journey and link you to other Pasifika support staff at the University's Pacific Islands Centre and Va'a o Tautai – Centre for Pacific Health.

Pacific Islands Centre
Va'a o Tautai – Centre for Pacific Health

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact the staff listed below.

BMS Departmental Pasifika support staff


Dr Latika Samalia
Email and
Dr Erik Wibowo


Dr Ben Peters
Email and
Associate Professor Sigurd Wilbanks

Biomedical Otago Pacific Student Association (BOPSA)

President – Betty Feiloakitohi

Biomedical Sciences Programme

Associate Professor Liz Ledgerwood

Genetics Programme

Dr Gillian MacKay
Email and
Dr Tyler McInnes

Microbiology and Immunology

Dr Htin Lin Aung

Neuroscience Programme

Associate Professor Karl Iremonger

Pharmacology and Toxicology

Professor Rhonda Rosengren


Dr Abigail Walker

Postgraduate student support

The staff members linked above are also available to support postgraduate students in their respective fields.

More specific support for our postgraduate students is provided collaboratively between the Pacific Islands Centre and Va'a o Tautai – Centre for Pacific Health.

The Pacific Islands Centre (PIC) holds monthly postgraduate seminars where students have the opportunity to share their work as well as discuss their experience with each other.

For more information please contact the PIC:


For Va'a o Tautai:


The School of Biomedical Sciences offers a scholarship each year for a Pasifika student in their first year of postgraduate study:

School of Biomedical Sciences Pacific Peoples' Postgraduate Scholarship

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