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Wednesday 9 November 2022 3:10pm

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Nursing PhD candidate Amy Henry with Professor Helen Nicholson at the forum.

Pacific voices were front and centre at Otago’s annual symposium highlighting Pacific-led research.

The annual Pacific Voices symposium gives Pasifika postgraduate students the opportunity to share their research and garner support from their peers and staff across the University.

This year, 17 students completing their diploma, honour’s, master’s and PhD qualifications presented their research in fields ranging from toxicology to gender studies to marine sciences.

This year’s symposium was made possible by the Pacific Voices organising committee that included Professor David Baxter, Associate Professor Patrick Vakaoti, Associate Professor Rose Richards, Alison Finigan, Irene Ellis, Dr Tasileta Teevale, Tangilima Feleti, Dr Emma Powel and Dr Telesia Kalavite.

Pacific Island Studies Programme Co-ordinator Dr Telesia Kalavite says the event is important for the development and maintenance of Pacific knowledge, theories and perspectives.

“We want our Pasifika students to develop confidence in themselves and what they want to contribute to the Pacific communities and the world.”

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This year 17 postgraduate students spoke on a wide variety of topics.

Associate Professor Rosalina Richards says a thriving Pacific postgraduate community is an important part of the Pacific Strategic Framework.

“Pacific Voices gives us a chance to celebrate, firstly our students, but also all of those who are supporting them on their journey, including supervisors, Pacific support staff, families and friends.

“The Pacific Voices Symposium is a showcase for the latest generation of Pacific scholars who are leading us into new and exciting research territory.

“This symposium has been a critical platform for Pacific post-graduate students to highlight their research and put themselves forward as leading researchers in their respective fields.

“A number of Pacific Voices alumni have also become part of our University of Otago staff and it is a joy when talented students become valued colleagues.”

The past two symposiums in the series were held virtually, and the uncertainties associated with the COVID-19 pandemic meant that the organising committee had less time to plan than usual.

“I’m pleased we were able to adopt an in-person format. This event has been running for 19 consecutive years. We didn’t want to break the cycle and not host the symposium this year despite the challenges,” Dr Kalavite says.

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Vice-Chancellor Professor David Murdoch speaking at the forum.

Vice-Chancellor Professor David Murdoch gave the opening address at the event, noting the importance of elevating Pacific voices in light of the strategic direction of the University.

Postgraduate diploma student Tamapuretu Po Mitaera presented his research on the impact of COVID-19 on epithelial sodium channel activity in relation to the lungs.

Other presentations included research on the effect of a Polynesian-specific gene variant on pregnancy hormones, presented by honour’s graduand Cameron Young.

Nursing PhD candidate Amy Henry also shared her research on palliative care experiences and knowledge of Cook Islands families, clinicians and traditional healers.

Symposium attendee and former Pacific Islands Centre Tutorials and Academic Support Coordinator Dr Marea Colombo, says the event is an opportunity for the students to meet and know they are not alone.

“The postgraduate journey can be lonely and stressful. It’s even more of a challenge if you’re the only Pacific student in your postgraduate program,” she says.

“This is an opportunity for our postgraduate students to be joined under a community banner so that they know they are all in the same boat, navigating different storms together.”

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