Todd M Henry

Todd M Henry

Doctor of Philosophy candidate

For his PhD he is looking at human experiences of climate change and climate change related migration in Tonga, says Todd M. Henry who is currently completing a Doctor of Philosophy in communication studies.

“I chose this topic because I have an interest in the wellbeing of our environment, and a close connection to Tonga through my wife and children. As a photographer, I’ve also been documenting climate change and other social issues around the Pacific for the last seven years. I’ve seen the effects of climate change all around the Pacific, and I feel that the adaptations made by the indigenous people through the use of their traditional ecological knowledge need to be celebrated and better understood by Western science.”

His photography background and previous study inspired him to use a methodology called photovoice for his PhD, to capture the experiences of Tongans whose communities have relocated from the outer islands due to climate change.

“In the photovoice project, I’ll put cameras into the hands of key individuals to understand how they experience climate change and displacement in Tonga. The photographs will be used to open up discussion points for interviews that will inform the findings. Later, if the participants agree, the photographs will be used to showcase an exhibition that will highlight key issues from the perspective of displaced communities and hopefully inform policy at the government level.”

The right fit
A conversation with his supervisor is what first inspired him to come to AUT for his PhD, says Todd whose studies are supported by an AUT Vice-Chancellor’s Doctoral Scholarship.

“I met Professor Verica Rupar, my current supervisor, a couple of years ago and she suggested I check out AUT’s communication studies department. I did and I liked what I saw. I had been studying climate change related topics in a postgraduate capacity for a few years, and I wanted to combine that interest with my interest in photography and using visual research methods.

“The meetings with Verica are always good, and I leave feeling inspired and with some new ideas to incorporate into my project.”

He wouldn’t hesitate to recommend postgraduate study in communication to other students.

“I recommend AUT to anyone who wants to conduct innovative research. AUT is very supportive of students who have novel ideas and concepts for research.”

Taking on doctoral study
Starting a PhD in a global pandemic had its challenges, Todd admits.

“The first year of my PhD was pretty interesting with all the lockdowns and unusual living situations that resulted from the pandemic. I actually get the most enjoyment out of coming to campus to study in a quiet and academically driven space. I like the environment that AUT provides – the campus, the study areas, the supportive staff. AUT is very forward thinking, and I feel like that environment inspires my own research.

“I was also afraid at one point that I would have to completely change my research topic because travel to Tonga might not be possible. But now the world seems to be opening up again and I’m confident that I’ll be able to travel to Tonga to undertake the research on time. My supervisor and AUT in general have been really understanding throughout the whole process, and I really appreciate that.”

While his research in Tonga is still ahead of him, he already has plans for life after his PhD.

“My goal is to continue conducting research on the topics of climate change, human-environment interaction and human displacement. I’d like to undertake some more long-term photographic or documentary film projects, and get more work published. I want to travel more too, but I also have a strong urge to relocate to the Pacific Islands for a while to do research, most likely in Tonga or Vanuatu. My qualifications will allow me do that while contributing meaningfully to my field of study. I also plan on going back to the US to visit family, and I will be open to any opportunities that might come up there.”

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