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What our graduates are doing now...

Dr Mele Taumoepeau

Lecturer and Researcher
Department of Psychology, University of Otago

Mele research

right: Dr Mele Taumoepeau exploring how ethnicity and culture impact children's social understanding and development

Mele Taumoepeau was brought up in Tonga, where most parents hope their children will grow up to be doctors and lawyers—well, she didn't become either of those, but still ended up in a hugely fulfilling career.

When Mele left school, she went to university to study Psychology and Linguistics at Victoria University and then took a second degree studying speech pathology and therapy in Edinburgh, Scotland.

“I’d always been interested in people and working with people, so this was a natural career path for me.”

While at university, however, Mele developed a real interest in research; thinking deeper about those ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions that kept popping into her head. After she worked for about five years as a speech and language therapist, mainly with children, she thought the time was right to see if she could follow a research career.

The Department of Psychology at Otago was a fantastic place to do her PhD, under the supervision of Professor Ted Ruffman.

“The wonderful thing about doing postgraduate study in child development was that I could explore those deeper questions, while still meeting families and working with children.”

“I am really interested in how children learn about the minds of others, and how their social and linguistic environments contribute to this development. More recently, my research direction has moved towards understanding how ethnicity and culture play a role in children’s social understanding and development.”

Mele was awarded a Health Research Council Pacific postgraduate fellowship and worked as Research Fellow in the department after completing her PhD. She was then appointed to a lecturing position in the Psychology Department here at Otago.

“As a career, it combines many of my passions—delving into the complexities of the human mind, alongside the deep satisfaction and enjoyment I get from guiding and supporting students in their own endeavours.”

Fostering a culture of inclusiveness and academic success of Pacific students is important to Mele. This lead her to create/develop the role of department adviser for Pacific Students where she is keen to offer students - some new to both New Zealand and the University of Otago - pastoral care, and the benefit of her experience to help them also succeed.

Learn more about Mele by reading the following articles:

Mind Reader
Juggling PhD Study