School of Environment

Meet our students and graduates

Our students have different research interests and follow varied and exciting career paths after graduation. Meet some of our current and past students and find out about their experiences in the School of Environment.

David Bade (PhD Geography)

Student by a shed by the sea.


I studied at the School of Environment from 2004 - 2012, though my undergraduate and postgraduate years, graduating with my PhD in 2013. I became fascinated with the discipline of geography as a whole and historical and cultural geography in particular. I found the staff and students of the School to be the most friendly and supportive in the University. The School’s academic staff are also some of the leading and world-renowned scholars in their research fields.

My PhD thesis examined issues and tensions relating to the management of cultural heritage on conservation islands in New Zealand, which are considered to be ‘natural’. In these contexts cultural heritage is often not emphasized or not acknowledged in order to maintain the perception of the island as being ‘natural’. My research took me to exciting places all around the world – such as Australia, England, Germany, Malta, Sweden, and Tonga – both to further my research and to engage with overseas experts in the field. I am now working at Auckland Council as a Specialist in 'Built Heritage'.



Petra van Limburg-Meijer (PhD student in Environmental Science)

student sitting on a beach looking at the view.


Before I started my PhD research in the School of Environment I worked for five years as an ecologist for the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality, and as environmental advisor for Wetlands International, a global non-governmental organization working towards sustainable management of wetlands. I graduated as a biologist from the University of Leiden, and during these years I realized the important role people play in managing and restoring natural resources. My research at The University of Auckland combines biophysical, ecological and social aspects of environmental management and focuses on the integration of different types of ecological knowledge for restoring streams, lakes and estuaries. More specifically, I am looking at the role of community-based monitoring for providing a tool for developing collaboration and integration of local, traditional and scientific knowledge. In addition I am examining how values and beliefs direct restoration and management. My research site is based in Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere and Whaingaroa Harbour in New Zealand’s South Island.

I enjoy working with a broad range of people and academic interests. My supervisors come from human geography, physical geography and freshwater ecology – a perfect mix for my research. The School of Environment offers a good mix of New Zealand and international people, giving many different perspectives to research and academia. I have learned a lot from many of my PhD colleagues with topics not even remotely related to my research.

I also enjoy the opportunity to be involved in the development of the School’s Postgraduate community. I am a member of the Student Research Committee which organises events, academic discussions, introductions for new students, and facilitates communication between staff and students. When I graduate my aim is to continue working in restoring natural resources. I enjoy the practical implications of my research, and hope to contribute to better community driven restoration of catchments in New Zealand.



Bryan Drake (MSc Geology)

student standing by a rock face


I served 18 years with the Army Territorial Force and became fascinated by the wild and isolated parts of NZ we exercised in. Later, I had the opportunity to do an introductory geology paper, and became hooked on learning more. Being self-employed, I completed a BSc and PGDipSci part-time, and then went on to do my Masters thesis.

My Masters' research centred on a quarry at Mangatete, 18 km south of Rotorua. The site is directly on the Whirinaki fault, and the land to the east has been raised about 30 metres, enabling the farmer to quarry into the hillside, and giving a clear view of the strata that would otherwise be hidden underground.

Some 20 thousand years ago the site was an extensive lake. More than 20 metres of volcanic ash from the local volcanoes accumulated in the lakebed, and was then cooked by geothermal water rising through the lake, converting the ash to zeolite, a commercially valuable rock, which is the reason for the quarry. Also preserved at the site are exposures of paleosol (ancient soil), and sinter (the rock formed at hot springs).

My research aimed to understand how earthquake faults determine the location of geothermal springs, and how this relationship changes with time. We were also interested in the bacteria that live in geothermal springs, and which are trapped and preserved in the rock as sinter forms around the springs. We compared our sinter with those forming today at active springs in the Rotorua area, and at Yellowstone, USA. We also compared them with Jurassic sinter preserved in Argentina.

Bacteria that grow in the extreme conditions of geothermal springs are thought to be close to the very earliest forms of life on earth. They are also an indication of what we should look for when looking for sings of life on the planet Mars.



Megan Selby (PhD student Environmental Science)

student looking out over a mountain range.


I am a doctoral student in the School of Environment, focusing on the role of focal species in biodiversity conservation and human livelihood projects. Using a mixture of anthropological and ecological methods I am working in Madagascar on the intersection of lemur conservation, land use/rights, and protected areas designation. My professional background is in wildlife rehabilitation and animal care, with strong emphasis on conservation education as well as primate studies.

The School of Environment offers interdisciplinary strengths in natural resources, human livelihoods, GIS, and ecology that I was seeking to incorporate into my research. I chose to study here because of the School’s strong support of interdisciplinary concepts and application to developing strategies for environmental management. As an American, having completed my undergraduate degrees in the United States at Florida Atlantic University and then Yale University, I appreciated the opportunity to learn in an international setting, a valuable experience as conservation is a global priority that transcends borders. I wished to continue themes studied in my masters’ programme, and the School of Environment allowed me both the flexibility and the resources to develop a doctoral research topic.

When I have graduated I would like to continue as a field researcher for a period of time. I hope to continue working on strategies for species based conservation and land use management in a way that does not compromise local human livelihoods. Longer term I would like to remain involved in academia and conservation education.

I find the School’s shared offices with fellow PhD students an enjoyable working environment. I also value the accessibility I have to advisers, professors, fellow students, study spaces, research materials and courses. Being an international student I also enjoy learning about New Zealand and taking opportunities for outdoors adventure including rock climbing and cycling.



Roger Baars (PhD student Geography)

student sitting by a wharf with the sea in the background.


After completing my postgraduate-degree in Geography and Latin America Studies at the University of Hamburg (Germany), I was looking for a challenge; something new and exciting. Being associated with the German Institute of Global and Area Studies (GIGA) I came across some fascinating projects at the Institute of Asian Studies and decided, after researching Europe and the Americas, it was time to move on.

I was fortunate to achieve a University of Auckland International Doctoral Student Scholarship and started my PhD at the School of Environment in 2008. My research project focuses on new conceptualisations of regional spaces in human geography. In particular I am interested in processes which ‘produce’ temporary fixed and fluid spaces on different scales. In other words, how boundaries and territories are perceived as permeable (capital flows) and fixed (labour markets) at the same time.

The regional focus of my research is Southeast Asia and here the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in particular. After completing my PhD next year, I hope to establish a career in academia or foreign affairs in the broader Pacific region. I am confident that my doctoral degree from the University of Auckland will help me fulfilling this dream.



Corina Buckenberger (PhD student in Geography)

Student under a marquee


I graduated with a MSc in Geography from the University of Karlsruhe (now Karlsruher Institute of Technology (KIT), Germany) which is now one of the few elite universities in Germany. I am passionate about urban dynamic processes and after graduating I felt intrigued to undertake further research about urban issues in a global thriving city. A visit to the School of Environment during a holiday in New Zealand in 2005 assured me that the School of Environment would be the right place to pursue a doctoral degree. I was fortunate to receive a New Housing Researcher Development Grant from the Centre of Housing Research Aotearoa New Zealand (CHRANZ) which is supporting my research.

My thesis investigates housing qualities through experiences and perceptions of owner occupants in the Auckland Region. I am particularly interested to what extent housing qualities contribute to the meaning of home in the context of urban processes in Auckland and how these could inform policy and planning. I have enjoyed working in a school that has many internationally recognized researchers and in an environment that is very supportive of PhDs presenting papers at international conferences where they have the opportunity to meet with the wider global research community.

During the course of my studies I have gained undergraduate teaching experience in several human geography papers and in 2008 I received the Faculty of Science Certificate of Competence in Tutoring. I enjoyed acting as the postgraduate PhD representative in Geography in both the School and in the Faculty of Science and also to take part in the development of the current Postgraduate Student Research committee. After graduation I hope to establish a career in urban geography with the focus on housing either in academia or the government sector. I am confident that the skills gained at the School of Environment will help me to do so.



Poonam Sharma (MSc Environmental Science)

Student on graduation day


I am from India and I came to New Zealand in 2002. I never expected that my passion to learn about air quality would take me to New Zealand’s top University. I started with my post graduate diploma in environmental science which I finished at the end of the first semester of 2010 and I then studied for a Masters Degree in environmental science. I  enjoyed the postgraduate courses offered in the school as they have provided me with both practical experience and in depth knowledge about a range of subjects. The staff at the School of Environment are so friendly and encouraging that they eased my return to study after a gap of 13 years.

My research investigated Auckland’s air quality. In particular I looked at how different modes of transport (walk, bike, bus, train and motorbike) exposes travellers to air pollution during the main commuter times and which is the safest mode of transport from an air quality perspective. I hope my research into Auckland’s air quality benefits both policy makers and the public.



Rachael Pentney (MSc Geography)

Student on a beach using field equipment


When I started my studies in the School of Environment as an undergraduate, I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to get out of it. I knew that I loved the outdoors and the idea of learning about the environment, but I wasn’t quite sure where a degree in geography would take me. Three years of undergraduate study in physical geography provided me with a wide range of knowledge in areas such as coastal, fluvial and biogeography. I discovered an interest in the processes that take place on our coastlines and the management strategies put in place on these coastlines to protect human infrastructure. This interest led me to MSc studies. The topic for my Masters focused on a section of rocky coastline between Pakiri Beach and Goat Island Bay, north of Auckland where I determined the response of sea cliffs to wave impacts through the use of seismometers and wave pressure sensors.

My study within the School of Environment provided me with a broad set of skills from practical work in the field to analytical skills on the computer. My favourite part about the School of Environment was the numerous field classes that are available. Not only do these trips provide an opportunity to advance practical skills but they also offer an opportunity to interact with peers and staff members.



Jade Hyslop (MSc Geography)

student using a floating device to float on the water in a stream

Leaving school, I wanted a degree and loved the outdoors. A BSc in Geography and Environmental Science was the obvious choice and once enrolled, there was no looking back. In my undergraduate studies I discovered a niche interest in river processes and management solutions, which I pursued at postgraduate level. My honours dissertation studied the interactions between fluvial geomorphology and riparian (river) vegetation along Piha Stream. My masters thesis looked at the role of geomorphology within seed dispersal.

A great aspect of studying geography is the numerous field trips that you get to partake in right from the start. As an undergraduate, I travelled to many beautiful parts of New Zealand, including: Kawhia, the Bay of Plenty, and a trip around the Far North. Highlights of my postgraduate studies were 10 days in the South Island appreciating river diversity and a week spent on Great Barrier Island looking at wetland and forest ecology. You really get to experience first-hand what makes New Zealand such a dynamic and interesting country to be living in and studying.

After my honours degree, I received a summer internship with Waitakere City Council. This was a great way to put what I had learnt at university into practice. I also applied for a research grant, which allowed me to travel to South Korea to present research at the International Symposium on Ecohydraulics. This was a real privilege and an amazing opportunity. The School of Environment has equipped me with numerous technical, written and verbal, skills.



Victoria Jollands (MSc Environmental Management)

student at the beach


My passion for the ocean and the communities that rely on it, led me to undertake postgraduate studies in Environmental Management in the School of Environment. I am particularly interested in sustainability, processes and systems notably examining the links between the physical, social and biological processes of the marine system. With my passion and background in marine science it was no wonder I would choose fisheries management.

An Environmental Management degree gives you a trans-disciplinary approach that allows a more holistic study of processes and systems, enabling you to think outside the square, understand complexity and approach it without any barriers and ‘boxes’. The postgraduate courses, which are very diverse, enable you to discover new ways of exploring human-environmental relationships. The School of Environment allows you to discover your passions, and develop creative ideas in an encouraging environment supported by your supervisors, lecturers, classmates and colleagues.

My masters’ research centred on exploring multi-scalar governance for sustainable development of the world’s largest tuna fisheries in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean. It considerd to what extent the Regional Fisheries Management Organisation in particular the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), promotes robust and resilient systems. This topic, with the encouragement of staff within the School, facilitated a very interesting research programme that included travel to Tonga and Hawaii through funding from the WCPFC.



Xinyue Liu (MSc Environmental Management)

student in Albert Park on graduation day.


After completing my undergraduate study in China, I was offered a job engaged in the foreign communication of environmental projects in a government department. After three years of working in this environment I developed a keen interest for knowledge of environmental management. This led me to enrol in postgraduate courses in environmental management in the School of Environment at The University of Auckland. Frankly speaking, I thought the language and cultural barriers would make things very hard for me. However this nervousness eased very quickly when I found the School had excellent study support for international students. I found the more I got myself involved in my courses, the more I found I loved my coursework. All the courses were well designed to assist me to ease into postgraduate work. Besides the knowledge itself, the study strengthened my self-confidence, improved my communication skills and expanded my thoughts from all the class discussions, presentations and assignments.

My masters’ research used my home country as a case study where I researched governance and water pricing fields, which is a contentious issue. This research provided me the opportunity to examine participatory governance theory in a real world situation, where understanding and communication is crucial for successful environmental management. I returned to China at the end of my study to continue my work as a public servant. I very much enjoyed what I learnt in the School of Environment and I know that it will greatly assist me with my work.



Sophie Milloy (MSc Geology)

Student at the beach standing on rocks


For my MSc in Geology I researched turbidite lobe development using uplifted sandstone deposits that are found between Pakiri Beach and Goat Island in North Auckland. Turbidites are sediments that are transported and deposited by turbidity currents. Studying these helps us to understand about the evolution of the deep sea and how sediment is transported into deepwater regions. Understanding turbidites is critical for the oil industry since these deposits provide excellent reservoirs for oil and gas. By working with ancient deposits found on land we can develop a deeper understanding of the sandstone deposits found in deep and inaccessible parts of the sea. The results from my study may help oil exploration and contribute to the understanding of the sedimentary basins in which oil is found.

After completing my undergraduate degree, I chose to continue by enrolling in postgraduate study in The School of Environment because I enjoyed the practical component involved in geology courses. Moving from postgraduate coursework to research, I found the freedom I was given to choose who I would work with and what I wanted to research, gave me the opportunity to design an enjoyable and challenging project.