President's Awards 2017


Kirsten Vavasour

President's Award for Best Master's Thesis 2017


Nominated and cited by Professor Eric Pawson



Kris Vavasour’s thesis in cultural geography, titled“More than a Band Aid: how the use of popular music helped a city recover after disaster” , was written on a part-time basis and was awarded an A+ grade by two external examiners in late 2016. It focuses on how popular music as a shared experience has contributed to life in the city of Christchurch in the wake of the Canterbury earthquakes. The research question is ‘Since the earthquakes began, how has popular music been beneficial for the city and people of Christchurch?’ with the objectives of documenting post-quake musical events, and assessing the community-building as well as place-making roles of music after disaster.


Her thesis is well theorized, and draws on relevant literature about the role of music in everyday life, as well as the relationship between music and memory, and music and place. It explores the contribution of place to the character of music, as well as the ways in which places as venues shape music making. This moves to a strong discussion of the popular culture of disaster, which opens up space for the author’s analysis and theorisation of the role of music after Christchurch’s earthquakes. This includes its use as a method of community fundraising and as a means of commemoration.




Dr Gillian Elliot

President's Award for Best Doctoral Thesis 2017


Nominated and cited by Professor Claire Freeman



Gillian’s thesis titled “Exploring nature as representation and young adults’ conceptualisations of nature in the user-generated online world: Nature 2.0”, is a thoroughly scholarly piece of work, substantive in scope, erudite in exposition and forward looking in its core question on the role of web 2.0 in conceptualisation of nature. It breaks new ground in addressing a completely new facet of nature concept, philosophy and ways people currently and in future will engage with nature. It is a massive question. Gillian’s data sample was impressive with detailed questionnaire data from student respondents across Humanities, Science and commerce faculties and included analysis of 504 respondent recommended web sites. In terms of its geographic contribution, Gillian’s thesis makes a clear case for geographers to engage with the changing ways that environments are perceived and the role of digital media in defining young people’s relationships with nature.


As geographers, Gillian’s work exhorts us to include consideration of new media in our analysis of people environment relationships, a challenge that engages us with the fundamental core of geographic endeavour. Gillian has already published papers, including Geoforum (listed at the end). Her thesis conclusively indicates the extraordinary calibre of her work.



Dr Simon Vale

President's Award for Best Doctoral Thesis 2017


Nominated and cited by Associate Professor Ian Fuller







Simon’s doctoral research has made a significant contribution to geographic knowledge, both nationally and internationally within the field of fluvial geomorphology.  Simon’s research is the first to attempt a sediment fingerprinting study in such a large complex catchment in New Zealand, which lacks distinctive sediment markers.  This is truly original and novel research, genuinely pushing back the boundaries of our understanding of New Zealand’s physical environment. Simon has used complex geochemical analyses and mixture modelling to identify (‘fingerprint’) the key sediment sources in the Manawatu River. Not only has his research looked at the spatial scale of fingerprinting to identify key areas of the catchment contributing sediment, but he has also tracked change in sediment sources to the Manawatu River during a flood event. Furthermore, Simon has engaged in reflective critical analysis of his data and modelling and revised his model as part of his research. In terms of processes, Simon has demonstrated the importance of mudstone erosion as the primary suspended sediment generator in the Manawatu catchment. This is the first research to provide such a quantification and unequivocal link between sediment in the river and mudstone terrain. During a flood event he analysed, the proportion of suspended sediment derived from mudstone did, however, fluctuate, with sediment sourced from greywacke terrain (mountain ranges) also contributing a significant proportion of material. These results are the first to quantify changes in sediment flux, as contributing source areas in a catchment change during a storm event. Simon’s research therefore provides an insight into the complexity of suspended sediment dynamics in a catchment such as the Manawatu. Although not a focus of his research, Simon’s work will also be of use in targeting key terrains and areas of the catchment for soil conservation.



Dr Kelly Dombroski

President's Award for Emerging Researcher 2017


Nominated and cited by Alison Watkins, Dr Helen Fitt, and Professor Eric Pawson





Kelly is an innovative, critical thinker who combines theory and practice in novel ways through research that challenges readers and stakeholders to think beyond the status quo. Her research ranges from doctoral work on childrearing and hygiene in China to more recent research on collectivising care-work with and among postgraduates. Kelly’s research highlights the need for positive, practical change and has influenced the policies of international organisations including the World Bank.  Hers is a research record with real impacts on people’s lives, and has been built through periods of parental leave and, until mid-2015, part time employment.


Kelly plays a central role in the Community Economies Collective —a group of scholars interested in rethinking economic norms—and recently secured funding from La Trobe University for exploratory research with colleagues from this group. A growing publication record illustrates Kelly’s multidisciplinary work in diverse areas including community economies, development studies, environmental studies, feminist geography, health, and wellbeing.  The calibre of her research is illustrated by publications in leading international journals, a forthcoming monograph from the University of Minnesota Press, international collaborations including as co-investigator of a project funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and numerous invited contributions.