Summer Research Scholarships are a ten-week programme where selected students work with leading researchers at the University. Students Melodee Panapa Leilua and Annie Kang talked to Craccum about their experiences.
Melodee was a research assistant on a project called ‘Mapping Innovations in Indigenous, Feminist, and Culturally Appropriate Research Methodologies’, supervised by Dr. Marcia Leenen-Young and Dr. Lisa Uperesa. “We worked off the text, Decolonising Methodologies by Professor Linda Tuhiwai Smith, and followed the movements of Pacific research.” This project was her first choice, as indigenous methodologies is an area of interest.
She didn’t know what to expect going into the programme but was pleasantly surprised at how her journey went. “The community at Pacific Studies welcomed us into their office and helped us with anything we needed. The student support group did a great job building a community of scholars. There were coffees every Thursday, pizzas after lectures and everyone in the staff was really forthcoming.” She says it was a shame the summer students were spread out across different projects and couldn’t form strong connections.
Annie worked with Dr Karolina Stasiak in the Department of Psychological medicine. “We’ve been working on a chatbot called Aroha to help young people cope with the stress and isolation of lockdowns.” She says her research focused on interviewing Summer School students about the chatbot and how they found 2020. “Generally, people seem to really like it and appreciate being listened to and getting advice.”
Annie told Craccum that she had a clear idea of what type of project she wanted to work on when applying, and this one was a great fit. “I wanted to talk to people and didn’t want to look at numbers and spreadsheets all day. I’ve always been interested in mental health; my pathway through health science was mental health and addictions.”
Melodee says the experience was eye-opening and allowed her to understand what it is like to work for the University. “Working alongside successful academics gives you insight into the inner workings of an office. It seems like a really good place to work.” She says it was a great introduction to postgraduate study, which she had been considering. “It cleared up the fact I wanted to do postgrad and proved to myself I could do it. It’s a sink or swim kind of thing, and I feel like I grew from it.”
Working with a team of professionals allowed Annie to determine if research was something she wanted to do for her future career. “It was a good way to dip my toes into research, and it helped me realise I do enjoy it.” After completing the programme, she also feels more confident about entering the workforce. “I was worried about working with the supervisors and whether I would be useful to these super qualified people. I felt a lot of imposter syndrome going into it, but they definitely made me feel like I have something to bring to the table. My supervisor has offered to hire me as a research assistant, which I am super excited about.”
Annie found the workload to be very manageable. “It depends on your supervisor, who you’re working with, and what project you do, but for me, it was all good; it was almost nothing.” However, Melodee says the workload was challenging and that the compensation offered was not enough. All summer scholars receive a tax-free stipend of $6,000 for ten weeks of work. “I enjoyed the work, but the workload was a lot. If you expect students to work 40 hours a week, that doesn’t work out to be a full-time wage.”
Melodee has suggested there be reduced hours or increased pay for summer students. “At the beginning, I was just stoked to get it. They call it a scholarship, so you have this feeling of winning an award. However, when you work out the financial side of the scholarship, it’s not great.” Melodee says although it was a lot, they were flexible with how and when you worked, and her supervisor let students take a break or work from home when needed.
While Annie had a positive experience, not all students she has spoken to feel the same. “Your experience really depends on your supervisor. I’ve heard of some students who worked from home. Their supervisors wouldn’t talk to them and just told them, ‘look at this data and figure it out yourself’”. She feels lucky to have been able to go to campus to talk to supervisors and meet people. “It definitely affirmed a feeling of a friendly corporate environment.”
Melodee enjoyed having more autonomy over her learning, and it forced her to overcome personal learning curves like procrastination. “There are no tutorials, no lectures to attend; you were fully in charge of your workload. It helps shape your habits and identify strengths and weaknesses.” She says students might not realise the endurance they need for full-time work. Annie echoes this sentiment, “You learn all this theory in class, and it’s actually really different once you put it into practice.”
Annie warns students considering summer research to choose their project carefully, advising students to “see if it is something you’re interested in and if the supervisor is good.” Melodee also agrees having an interest in the subject matter is essential. She says opportunities like summer research are not advertised enough to Arts students. “Pacific studies is quite tight-knit, so we are bound to hear about something through word of mouth. But in the Arts Faculty, opportunities like summer school and jobs aren’t accessible.”
She believes summer research is for everyone. “I think there’s learning in the process for anyone. There are students out there who don’t know their own power, and if they had a chance to have a go at a summer scholarship, they could prove to themselves they are better than they think.”