Deborah Heke

Deborah Heke

Doctor of Philosophy candidate
Master of Health Science
Bachelor of Health Science in Psychology and Applied Mental Health

Ngāpuhi, Te Arawa

Sometimes she feels like AUT chose her, says PhD student Deborah Heke.

“I’ve spent more of my adult years at AUT than away from it. Apart from the sense that AUT is my ‘academic home’, I appreciate that AUT is a contemporary university and is adaptable to the changing world.”

After completing bachelor's and master’s degrees in health science, as well as a certificate in personal training and fitness instruction, Deborah is now studying a Doctor of Philosophy in Māori health.

“Doctoral study was a natural progression from my previous study. I want to pursue a career in academia and research, and felt that I still had further to go with the research I had already completed. I want to make a significant contribution to the area of Māori health.”

Broadening the understanding of physical activity
For her doctoral research, Deborah is focusing on physical activity and wāhine Māori.

“By identifying key factors aligned with physical activity behaviours in Māori women and linking them with a Māori worldview, this study will help to broaden the understanding of physical activity as a means of engaging with our tupuna, environmental spaces, and continuing whakapapa in a meaningful and mana-enhancing way.

“Although the study will focus on the domain of physical activity, its role in health and wellbeing will be considered from a broader context of whakapapa.”

Deborah’s research is supervised by Dr Isaac Warbrick, the co-director of Taupua Waiora Centre for Māori Health Research, who has already supervised her master’s thesis.

“I have a lot of respect for his work and his ambition for the direction of Māori health research at AUT. I’m lucky to have a supervisor whose research interests sync well with mine.”

An enjoyable journey
Her experiences at AUT have been wide ranging. Initially, a naïve young student unsure where study would lead, she now juggles the role of PhD student with being a new māmā.

“I have enjoyed the journey so far and AUT has been part of the support that has guided it. Especially important to my PhD journey is the time I share with my MAI ki Āronui whānau who support Māori and indigenous doctoral students at AUT.

“I was fortunate to be awarded the Vice-Chancellor’s Doctoral Scholarship, which provides financial support but also recognition that my research is valued. I was also able to co-author my first journal article that was accepted to an international publication with two of AUT's senior researchers, Professor Denise Wilson and Dr Heather Came. This opportunity came about thanks to AUT's summer studentship research programme.”

She would highly recommend postgraduate study in Māori health, Deborah says.

“I’ve enjoyed the range of papers available to me and my interests. The academic staff have a range of experience and expertise, and have been approachable and supportive.”