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Auckland student uses thesis to honour her late mother

Auckland student uses thesis to honour her late mother

For University of Auckland student Marcia Leenen-Young, finishing her PhD was more than gaining a degree, it was also a way of honouring her mother.

During the completion of her PhD thesis her mother, Teresa Young, was diagnosed with cancer and passed away.

“I promised her that I would finish it.”

“I was still quite literally in the midst of grief. I had to finish it for her and for me and everyone who was around me at the time.”

Marcia completed a PhD thesis titled: “Polybius' Self-constructed Image in the Histories and its effect on his Historical Objectivity”. Polybius was an ancient Greek historian of the Hellenistic Period. The complex topic involved critiquing the accuracy of his historiography.

She graduated on Monday as part of the University’s Autumn Graduation.

Marcia was so moved by her mother’s support that in the weeks leading up to her completion she changed her name by deed poll to include her mother’s surname ‘Young’.

“I wanted my mum’s name on the thesis.” “It was a way of acknowledging her contribution to the thesis and an honouring of what she meant to me.”

“She encouraged me every day. She would be sick in bed just after chemo and I would be trying to feed her and she would say ‘don’t worry about me, haven’t you got work to do’?”

Now she can hardly believe she’s completed her thesis.

“I remember just sitting back and thinking ‘I’ve done it. We’ve done it’.”

“It’s a little bit unreal. I look at it and think ‘did I write that? Are those my words on the paper’?”

Marcia’s thesis also marks another significant milestone; she is the first woman of Samoan descent to complete a PhD in Classics and Ancient History.

As part of her completion of the thesis Marcia received a Leadership Grant Fund for Maori and Pacific students that enabled her to travel to the United Kingdom to carry out research at London’s University College, Oxford University and the University of Edinburgh.

“It opened my eyes quite a lot, particularly in Oxford. Everything is centred on education and the acquisition of knowledge.”

The Mt Eden resident now hopes to continue working in academia either in her field, or in student services at the University. She already works for the Faculty of Arts’ Tuākana programme, a University-wide mentoring and tutoring scheme for Māori and Pacific students. She also co-runs Tall Poppies, a project to assist Waitakere College’s Maori and Pacific pupils gain academic skills before entering university.

Marcia has written about her experiences by contributing the chapter Maintaining motivation: a postgraduate thesis when life gets in the way to the book The postgraduate student handbook: Surviving and succeeding in further study set to be published in mid-2014.

Marcia’s experiences in coping with grief and achieving under extreme pressure are already well proven, but she wants to continue to be strong. While recently supporting a team of walkers at the Oxfam Trailwalker 2014 - a gruelling 100km fundraising walk around Lake Taupo - she heard a woman on the side-lines shouting a statement of encouragement to the competitors that she now uses to boost her confidence: “Pain is temporary, pride is forever.”


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