Phage Hunt was my Phavorite

The hunt for bacteriophages has been my phavorite course this year.  Here is why:

1) Fun, supportive, enthusiastic and adventurous.  These are the qualities that our Phage Whānau (family) embodies.

2) Tauira (student) working along side tauira, encouraging one another in their endeavour to become independent scientists.

3) Real research and data that we can take ownership of and is useful.

Too often science undergraduates find them selves snowed under deadlines and content heavy courses, that they never have the oppurtunity to experience what it is like to be a scientist and produce relevant and useful results.

While the purpose of an undergraduate degree is to teach students a strong foundation, there should also be an oppurtunity for tauira to experience research.  If these oppurtunities were made avaiable as credited courses in the degree, more students would be likely to engage in these courses.  This may even lead to increased postgraduate enrollments as students get drawn in.

The SEAPHAGES program has proved that this is achievable.  The creation of a  bacteriophage database by international students and faculty, shows that course-based research can be successfully implemented on a large scale without compromising the authenticity or richness of scientific research.  Not only this but the spread of this course out of the U.S.A. into other countries like New Zealand has also shown how local culture can be incorporated into the course to further engage students.  The flexible and student-lead environment has allowed this to happen in our class, ultimately creating our Phage Whānau.  Therefore, this is also proving that you can incorporate Te Ao Maori into a science course with out compramising it’s authenticity.

Maori in Science

From 1994 to 2005 the number of Maori science undergradutes increased three fold, from 107 to 323 (1).  The popular areas of study included biological sciences and health and medical sciences.  Although this is a worthy cause for celebration, there is still so much more room for success.  Maori graduating with science degrees ranged from 8 – 10%, for non-Maori this was between 16.5 – 18.5% (1).  A study by Hook, Waaka and Raumati (2007) tried to identify some things that may help Maori tauira feel more engaged in their science courses.  You’ll find that our Phage Whanau already incorporates some of these values.

“Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen and a push in the right direction.” – John C. Crosby.

One of the tools that Hook, Waaka and Raumati talked about was the value of mentorship.  In the Phage Hunt the lecturers and faculty take a backseat role, becoming more like Phage Mentors, rather than scary, intimidating lecturers. Although they may not be Maori themselves, it’s their heart of inclusiveness that allows Maori students to thrive.

“The key to being a great mentor is to help people become more of who they already are – not to become more like you.” – Suze Orman

The following three values have the potential to address some of the cultural and racial issues associated with Māori students in science (and university in general)(2).

Whanaungatanga (family like relationship)

Te reo Māori (Māori language)

Rangatiratanga (leadership)

All members of our class commented on the welcoming environment of the class and so whanaungatanga is already established.  Te Reo has been welcomed and incorporated throughout the year as well.  Rangatiratanga is one that could be improved on.  This relates to the idea that more Māori role models and key figures are needed in science.  A barrier experienced by many tauira is that an absence of role models and key figures, prevents science from being relatable and achievable to Māori.

All three of these values related directly to the fact that almost half of Māori (41%) in tertiary education are the first in their families to attend university (3).  Feeling comfortable, well supported and guided is essential for Māori success in undergraduate, and hopefully postgraduate study.  I expect that as these issues continue to be recognised and these values incorporated, we will see a continued increase in tauira participation and achievement in science.

Phage hunt has been my phavorite because of the research opportunities that is has given me, but also because the potential the course has to positivley influence Māori student outcomes in the future.

Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.


  1. Hook, G. R., Waaka, T., & Raumati, L. P. (2007). Mentoring Māori within a Pākehā framework. Mai Review, 3(1).
  2. Hook, G. R. (2008). Māori students in science: Hope for the future. MAI Review LW1(1), 11.
  3. Te Pōkai Tara Universities New Zealand (2016). New Zealand Universities Key Facts and Stats.
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