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The Department of Pacific Affairs’ PhD students come from across Australia and the region. Meet one who is nearing the submission of her thesis, Theresa Meki.
Tell us a little about your background.
I’m Papua New Guinean, from the highlands - Goroka and Simbu province, although I was born in Port Moresby. But I live in Goroka (when I’m not in Canberra), and went to high school there, in a mission school, so I identify as Gorokan.
What did you study before coming to ANU?
I did my undergraduate degree at UPNG from 2008 to 2011. It was in political science and environmental science. In 2012, I got a role as a research assistant at the Pawa Meri Film Project, which was a then AUSAID project - a partnership between the University of Goroka and Victoria University, Melbourne. They didn’t pay me much, but they said they’d fund my honours at the University of Goroka - which was great. That year was a PNG election year and it seemed like everyone was talking about ‘hot’ candidates. One of these was Julie Soso who had been contesting since 1997 for the Eastern Highlands provincial seat. People were talking about her and other women candidates in general, whether they had a chance in the male-dominated political space. I thought that was interesting and decided to look at it as an honours project. It was Ceridwen Spark, my co-supervisor, who encouraged me to pursue a PhD scholarship at ANU.
What is the topic of your thesis?
In 2015, I attended a women’s forum in Port Moresby, it is hosted by the US Embassy every year. One of the speakers there was talking about how she had been contesting in elections for years but hadn’t been successful, and she was saying ‘there must be something I’m doing wrong’. So I thought – ‘yes, what is she doing that’s wrong?’ I wanted to look at how women campaign as opposed to how men campaign, and to understand what’s similar and what’s different. That became the focus of my PhD thesis.
Have you been involved in some of DPA’s other work in PNG?
During my field work, in the year leading up to the 2017 election, DPA was doing candidate training for women. I worked as a support staff member, helping to facilitate some of the workshops along with Kerryn Baker and Hannah McMahon. We went to Wewak, Bougainville, Kimbe and Kiunga. It also helped with my research because I was able to meet other women candidates who weren’t from Oro province, where I was based. This meant I could get broader understanding of the type of women who contest in elections, why they do it, and how they were organizing their campaigns. I also worked as one of the team leaders for DPA’s 2017 PNG election observation in Oro Province.
What’s your favourite thing about studying at ANU and living in Canberra?
Canberra grows on you. I love that we have lots of galleries and new things to see. It’s a wonderful place to study. I also like that you can’t get lost here – it’s easy to get around! I also appreciate the basic things, like staying in my office until 10 pm, and then catching the bus home - it’s safe.
The thing I like about being at ANU with DPA, studying the topic which I am, is access to so many leading academics. When I was first here I read some stuff by Ron May, and then I was like oh my goodness – Ron May is just down the corridor! It’s great, having read their work, to be able to pick people’s brains.
What’s your favourite television show?
I’ve just finished watching The Heights on ABC Iview, and I always enjoy CSI-type murder-pathology- crime-drama shows. I also love the Marvel comic universe series - I like them because I like things that are so out of this world that they could never happen!
DPA boasts the largest and fastest growing Pacific-focused doctoral program anywhere in the world. DPA’s PhD program is a vibrant community of researchers pursuing some of the most important long-term research questions relevant to Melanesia and the broader Pacific. For more information the program please click here.