School of Biological Sciences

Meet our students

Find out why current students of the School of Biological Sciences chose to study with us.

Meet our students Connor Clemett-400px

Connor Clemett, pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Science

I am in my first year of study. Throughout my time at Riccarton High School in Christchurch, I participated in a range of competitions with a science and technology focus. One of them, the Australia-New Zealand Brain Bee Challenge  was really influential; the year I did it, 2012, coincided with the Australian Neuroscience Society annual meeting on the Gold Coast. Those of us in the challenge attended the event, and there I met University of Otago neuroscientist Professor Cliff Abraham. He offered me a week's work experience in his lab, and that’s where my interest really solidified.

What I most enjoy about life in the School of Biological Sciences is the challenge that it poses. There is a lot of content to be absorbed, but diligence and enthusiasm helps keep me engaged and motivated.

Because you have total freedom over what lectures you attend, how well you do is based almost entirely on your decisions and how eager you are to make the most of what is offered.

Self-motivation is something that I, and nearly every other person I know, has struggled with at some point. Getting tired and finding it hard to maintain energy are problems that are often compounded by having to finish tasks at the last minute. It’s a challenge that I’m sure even the most organised first-years face at some point.

My general advice to would-be university students is this: You’re exposed to so many new things in such a short space of time that an open mind and relaxed attitude goes a long way towards you seeing, doing and a being a part of things you wouldn’t otherwise. The worst thing you could would be to turn away opportunities without considering them first.

Meet our students Andre Bellve-400px

Andre Bellve, pursuing a conjoint Bachelor of Science in Ecology and Bachelor of Arts in Statistics

I chose ecology and, in particular, animal behaviour because I am passionate about the natural world.  I am utterly fascinated and in complete awe of the diversity that the natural world has managed to create.

However, that world is rapidly being degraded by increased urbanisation and population. I believe, however naively, that the best way to preserve this treasure for coming generations and to maintain a high quality of life for all beings is to understand the intrinsic nature of the world’s non-human inhabitants and natural processes. I take statistics to supplement my ecology papers – you can’t do ecology properly without statistics; you need empirical evidence.

I chose the University of Auckland because it has a fantastic biology department and offered a wide scope of courses for me to choose from. The lecturers I have encountered are both supportive and clearly passionate about what they teach.

I am aiming to pursue post-graduate study, hopefully with some of the professors here, and will, hopefully, end up working at the university. Alternatively, there is a high demand in some industries for people with my skill set.

If I gave intending students advice, I’d say: Make sure what you are studying actually interests you. Don't study something because you like what it will give you – such as money or prestige – as these things won’t make up the deficit in happiness if you don't enjoy your career at the end of it. I have seen countless students at the end of their law/commerce degrees tell me they don't want a career in those areas. What's the point in life if you don't enjoy it?

Meet our students Gregor Kolbe-400px

Gregor Kolbe, pursuing a PhD in Biological Sciences

I am looking at the transmission of Botrytis virus X across different isolates of Botrytis cinerea, a fungal pathogen of grapes. This is part of a larger project which is looking at the feasibility of using fungal viruses as biocontrol agents.

I went to high-school in France where I got my baccalauréat with a biology speciality. I then obtained my BSc (Hons) in plant science at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

There were two major reasons I chose to study at the University of Auckland. First, I got a scholarship that allowed me to pursue my passion of fungal cell biology as well as learn about a field new to me: virology. Secondly, Auckland collaborates on many projects with Plant and Food Research, one of New Zealand’s major research institutes, which itself carries out some very cool research in plant pathology. My project is part of a joint scheme between the two institutes. That means that I get the most out of the expertise and equipment specific to each institute.

One of the things I enjoy about life in the School of Biological Sciences is the regular seminars where students and staff present the projects that they are working on. It is great to see the different approaches people use to answer their research questions. I do tutoring and demonstrating within the school, and I thoroughly enjoy enthusing undergraduates about plants and fungi.

The hardest part about a PhD is also the best part about it. The project is entirely yours. You own it and make all the decisions within the framework laid out at the start with your supervisors. This is both very exciting and very daunting.

To those thinking of doing a PhD, I would say: Do as many summer studentships as you can to give you a taste of what research is like. This will also ensure that you have referees who can vouch for your ability as a researcher. And make sure that you chose a subject that you are truly passionate about. You will be spending a lot of time with that subject and it is likely to slowly become part of your identity, so you’d better be happy with it.

As for my future, there are many paths, and the one I take will most likely depend on opportunity. I would like to pursue my interest in fungal biology, either doing research or conservation work. In the longer term, I hope to teach fungal biology.

Meet our students Rebekah Bower-400px

Rebekah Bower, pursuing a PhD in Biological Sciences

My PhD studies the peptide hormone amylin, which has relevance to the metabolic diseases diabetes and obesity.

I wouldn’t say I always had planned to do a PhD, nor would I have chosen to undertake a PhD just for the sake of completing one. The path became clearer over time, and perhaps fate played a role.

When I finished by BSc in Biomedical Science, I qualified for Honours. When I was looking through the available Honours projects and supervisors, Debbie Hay’s lab stood out to me, as one of the projects she was offering focused around the brain and metabolism, which interested me a great deal. We scheduled a meeting and she became my Honours supervisor. I really enjoyed my Honours research and learned many skills. I wanted to continue with my topic under Debbie’s supervision, so decided to do a PhD.

Challenges? At the beginning, three to four years sounds like a lot of time to do a PhD. But the reality is that time flies by. Time management and self-discipline are required as the project is your own. The other big challenge of this type of programme is troubleshooting unexpected issues in your research methods and/or results. You have to be adaptable and change as your project changes – it might not end up as it started.

I’m undecided about what I’ll do next – I suppose I’ll go where the opportunities are. However, if there was a chance to continue on with my current supervisor either on a contract or as a post-doctoral staff member, I would do that.

Meet our students Geoffrey Thompson-400px

Geoffrey Thomson, conjoint Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences and Bachelor of Arts in English. Pursuing BSc Honours in Biology

My Honours work looks at the effect of day length on the time it takes legumes – plants like beans, peas and clovers – to flower. I analyse this at both the whole-organism level (which involves growing lots of plants) and at the molecular level using high-throughput sequencing. Ultimately, I aim to decipher the genetic underpinnings that trigger flowering.

Biology was one of my favourite subjects at high school. Then at university, I was attracted to the disciplines of ecology and genomics – that’s the study of all the DNA in an organism and its function. Plants fit well into both these areas and are really amenable to work with; they don’t bite or run away, which makes it relatively easy to get high-quality data. Furthermore, plants are tightly intertwined with our lives, whether it’s the food we eat, materials we use, or environment we live in.

After this, I intend to pursue a PhD in biology in something to do with plant science, evolutionary biology and genomics.

The great thing about the School of Biological Sciences is that there are so many people doing so many interesting things, and they don’t mind when you go and ask them questions.

I’ve found that university life is what you make of it. It is self-directed. Part of that is challenging yourself to do more than the bare minimum to ensure your time here is best utilised.

If I were to give advice to aspiring students, I’d say: first off, don’t be overwhelmed. Everything at university is both manageable and achievable. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice. I’d also say: don’t be afraid to look stupid. I’ve had full lecture theatres laugh when I got it wrong on both the first and last days of my undergraduate degree. The only way you learn is by engaging with the topic at hand.

Meet our students Matthew Jessop-400px

Matthew Jessop, pursuing a BSc in Biological Sciences

Coming into uni, I was doing a law and chemistry conjoint. I decided that chemistry interested me most – but I was also taking biology papers. By the end of my second year, I decided to switch to doing biology: the papers I'd taken were really exciting, and I decided that that's where I could see myself going.

Before I came to uni, I didn't really have much of an idea of what the law degree would be like – we didn’t do anything like it in high school, and while I really enjoyed law, I couldn't see myself ever going into the profession. It took a while to make the decision; it was really hard dropping law after two years of it, but I feel much more sure about the direction I'm heading in now.

The School of Biological Sciences is an exciting place to be – all of the lecturers are engaged in amazing research, and you get the feeling that the school as a whole is right at the cutting edge of research. One of the essays I wrote focused on a paper written by our lecturer, who is a world expert in the field!

To do well at university, you’ve got to really be on top of time management – each paper has lectures, labs, assignments and tests, and juggling them all can be quite a challenge. Making a plan helps; if you plan a study timetable well in advance of exams, you can avoid a lot of stress.

If people asked my advice about doing well at uni, I’d say: Attend lectures! I find that an hour spent in a lecture is more worthwhile than an hour of individual study. Also, try to understand at least the basics of what a lecture is going to cover before you get there – this makes it much more meaningful and worthwhile. Also, try to have a balance while studying; set some time aside to relax and not think about uni. And don't be afraid to change your mind about your degree - not many people know when they come into uni exactly where they’re going.

After I finish my undergraduate degree this year, I'm hoping to spend next year doing Honours. Afterwards, I'll look at doing a PhD, either at Auckland or overseas, with a goal of getting a job in research somewhere down the line.

Rachael Sagar-300px

Rachael Sagar, pursuing a PhD in Biological Sciences

My doctoral research focuses on mottled petrels (Pterodroma inexpectata) – the physiological impacts of translocation on chicks as well as the birds’ current and historical foraging ecology and how climate change and other issues may affect this. Mottled petrels are what we call “range-restricted” – they breed at only a few sites in southern New Zealand.

My childhood interest in nature grew into a passion for science. My undergraduate degree, a Bachelor of Science (Hons) in Zoology from the University of Otago, exposed me to a fantastic melting-pot of disciplines and led to a specific interest in animal physiology.

I have a Master of Science in Biosecurity and Conservation from the University of Auckland; my MSc thesis looked at mottled petrels as well, and my PhD topic grew out of that. It’s important to me that the outcomes of my research have practical applications, in particular to species conservation.

Additionally, I get to spend vast amounts of time doing fieldwork in some incredible places like Whenua Hou (Codfish Island), which is three kilometres west of Stewart Island – a small perk! The photo shows me on Codfish Island weighing a chick. He’s about 85 days old, and about two weeks off fledging – being able to fly. Following fledging, he would have headed straight for the Bering Sea – a flight of about 14,000km.

A PhD is an amazing, rare opportunity to explore a topic that interests you so completely. All of the challenges of doctoral study are learning experiences, and as a result, are ultimately rewarding. You need to see both triumphs and failures as learning opportunities.

Once I finish my doctorate, I hope to continue in academia with a focus on applied avian ecophysiology – the combination of research and teaching is especially appealing.

Amy Joy Pulou Maslen-Miller-300px

Amy Joy Pulou Maslen-Miller, pursuing a Postgraduate Diploma in Biological Sciences

I am a New Zealand-born Samoan. I have a BSc in Biological Sciences, and after finishing my PGDip, plan to do my masters in plant pathology. I’d like to look at significant crops in Samoa and research the different pathogens that affect them.

What I like about science is knowing how things work – the many molecular process that occur in plants are really mind-blowing! – and getting the opportunity to pursue research whose results can influence society. It is really exciting that scientific research may be able to cure cancer or find better ways to increase sustainability in developing countries.

Over the summer holidays, I was involved in a Landcare project looking at the origin of fungal communities associated with pohutukawa in the Pacific, which involved many analyses of fungal DNA.  My time at Landcare showed me how science can be applied to real-life situations, and provided experience in the type of work I can see myself doing in future.

When I started at university, the support programme for Māori and Pacific students, Tuākana, was a big help. The friendly and welcoming environment at Tuākana helped me come out of my shell. It also helped me to understand how I learn and what works for me – such as drawing diagrams and talking about concepts aloud. Without Tuākana, I wouldn't have gained my degree. I decided to give back by becoming a tutor for SBS Tuākana and am currently co-coordinating the programme.

To do well at university, you need to know that it’s not how smart you are – it’s about how hard you’re prepared to work, and how well you’re able to recover when knocked down. I was not the brightest in the class at high school, but when I came to university I worked really hard. There were tough times where my results were not what I had hoped for, but I turned to the Tuākana programme for support, as well as family, and pushed on to do well.



Meet our students Peter Van Kampen-400px

Peter Van Kampen, pursuing a BSc in Marine Science

I’m of Ngai Tai, Whakatōhea, Ngā Puhi, Ngāti Kahungunu and Tūhoe whakapapa, and I’m in my third and final year of my BSc.

A fascination with nature and a strong affiliation to water led me to marine science.  Commercial seafood production is vital to New Zealand, and we need to produce marine scientists, Māori marine scientists in particular. Despite Māori owning or controlling more than 40% of New Zealand’s commercial fishing industry, there are relatively few Māori with tertiary marine-science qualifications in the field.

Once I complete my BSc, I hope to do an MSc. Ultimately I want to own or manage an aquaculture facility and consultancy business.

The Tuākana programme helped guide my journey as a student.  The academic and professional skills fostered by the programme encourage students to better equip themselves for life during and after university.  While the Tuākana programme is primarily aimed at mitigating the difference in grades between Māori and Pacific students and other groups of students, it provides an environment that encourages Māori and Pacific Island students to succeed. I am now co-coordinating the Tuākana programme for SBS.

In general, if you want to be successful at university there are a few key attributes you need to develop. Time managment is one – at university, there is no one supervising you but yourself.  You need to make new friends in your courses  – university is a lonely place if you choose not to make new friends. New-found friends will support you and are very likely to be your colleagues in future.

Make yourself known to lecturers. Talk to them, seek help, be polite and build a good rapport. Never be scared or ashamed to ask for help. The university has awesome support services.