Accessibility Skip to Global Navigation Skip to Local Navigation Skip to Content Skip to Search Skip to Site Map Menu

What our graduates are doing now...

Dr Rebecca Sargisson

Lecturer in psychology, University of Waikato

Dr Rebecca Sargisson teaching


After visiting Otago University to attend a conference, Rebecca Sargisson knew that she wanted to enrol in a PhD there. “Visiting the Otago campus was inspiring. Not only were the environs beautiful, but the psychology department was so welcoming. There seemed to be no distinction between staff and students, and an openness that I found really refreshing.”

Selecting Professor Geoffrey White for her PhD supervisor, Rebecca made the move down south, where she fell in love with Dunedin and immersed herself in her PhD and campus life. “The University is such an important focus for Dunedin. The students add life and character to a city already overflowing with such attributes.”

Rebecca formed a close and successful working relationship with PhD supervisor, Professor White, who was just as egalitarian and friendly as he had appeared during her visit to Dunedin. “Geoff had students around to his house for dinner all the time. We would talk psychology, play guitar, have a laugh. It was great to have such a relaxed relationship with my advisor.”

During Rebecca’s PhD years, she tutored psychology papers part-time. The opportunity to tutor was helpful financially, but also ignited a passion for teaching. “I found it extremely rewarding to nurture other students through their studies; to explain concepts in a way that was accessible for them. Some of my students from Otago became lifelong friends.”

After Rebecca completed her PhD in 2003, she got a job in Geneva with a humanitarian organisation. One of her jobs was to conduct research on dogs’ abilities to detect landmines. The job involved working and living in many countries, particularly Afghanistan, Angola, and Bosnia. “I was involved in an enormous 3-year research project funded by the United Nations in Afghanistan. It was so amazing to experience research on such a grand scale, and in such difficult circumstances. It gave me a chance to apply my PhD research experience to address such an important problem.”

After starting a family, Rebecca returned to New Zealand, where she is currently a lecturer in psychology at the University of Waikato. “Being a lecturer combines two of the things I love doing most: teaching and research. I get the satisfaction of guiding students through their own learning journey and the opportunity to continue to discover interesting things about our world.”

Rebecca’s recent research has included an investigation of the volunteer response following the Rena oil spill in the Bay of Plenty, where she lives; investigations of children’s uses of playgrounds; and strengths and needs of new entrant children. “As a new researcher, I still need to find my feet in terms of my main research focus. But at the moment, I am exploring issues that interest me, so it’s all fun, really!”