Pia McKay

Pia is studying for a PhD in Politics and International Relations. She is the recipient of a University of Auckland Doctoral Bursary.

Pia McKay

“I started my PhD in February, so I have been getting to know everyone – talking things over with the other postgraduate students has been great. When people are interested in a similar academic area, it’s very easy to get to know them. Most of the PhD students have completely different topics from one another but there’s a sense of solidarity between the tutors, between the women PhD students, and between the postgraduate students generally. People work to their own timeframes so socialising and discussions are ad hoc, but there is definitely a supportive feel.

“My research is looking at structures and practices that shape empathy and responsibility to distant others. I am looking at some of the impacts of the ‘states’ system, particularly the impacts on responsibility and empathy in responding to people at a physical distance.

“My topic came from a strong interest in political theory and trying to understand and question responses to distant others, especially in crisis situations. I see it as very important to recognise some of the conditions of the international states system that limit empathy and moral responsibility to distant others in particular ways. This includes ideas of whom responsibility extends to, and what forms it takes, at a personal level as well as institutional levels.

“I was really pleased to hear that I’d been awarded the Doctoral Bursary after applying for a Doctoral Scholarship. Receiving the Bursary has made a difference for me both economically and in terms of a confidence boost. I was quite nervous starting my provisional year towards a PhD because it’s a big deal, a big project, and a huge opportunity. It’s been a major help to receive this funding. I really appreciate both the assistance itself and the feeling of support that comes from knowing that the selection panel believed in my proposal.

“Being a postgraduate student in the Faculty of Arts is busy! It’s exciting and I feel really lucky to be able to devote time to ideas. I chose the University of Auckland because I wanted to study with particular lecturers. After returning in 2010 from studying for my Masters at the Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, I worked for several years for a knowledge management and documentation company. I came to talk to Dr Anita Lacey about my potential PhD topic last year, and since those first meetings both she and Dr Thomas Gregory have been hugely supportive. So it was the staff and students here at Auckland (along with the staff strengths in Critical Theory) that made me want to stay and study here.”

Find out more about studying Politics and International Relations.