Old remedies explored in new postgraduate research

5 October 2011

Joanna Bishop

Remedies of the Past: Waikato University PhD student Joanna Bishop has just begun her doctoral study about introduced and native medicinal plants and their uses in Pakeha New Zealand, 1850-1920.

New Zealand’s early Pakeha settlers brought plants with them, often ones that could be used for medicinal remedies. Waikato University PhD student Joanna Bishop is studying how the settlers used these plants, the native ones they found here and the evolution of more modern treatments.

Postgraduate Research Month

October is Postgraduate Research Month at the University of Waikato and Joanna Bishop has just begun her doctoral study – three years of research and writing about introduced and native medicinal plants and their uses in Pakeha New Zealand, 1850-1920.

“I’ve just heard that my research proposal has been accepted, so it’s timely postgraduate research month is happening now,” says Joanna. “There will be workshops on starting your thesis, doctoral writing and keeping up the momentum. But the first thing I’d say about doing a PhD is that you have to be passionate about your subject. And I love my research.”

She has a Bachelor of Science degree and a Masters in medical anthropology, both from Waikato, and now for her PhD she’s moving into the History Department.

“A lot of my research will focus on old nursery catalogues, colonial diaries and letters, doctors’ case notes and pharmaceutical literature.”

Evolution of Treatment

She says it’s interesting to see how treatments evolve and change. “There’s an old book called Dr Chase’s Receipt Book and in it, the cure for Neuralgia is nerve root, catnip and skull cap. In later publications the cure changes to carbonate of ammonia, chloride of ammonia, tincture of gelsemium and compound powder of tragacanth (which is now used as a thickening agent).”

Joanna has been awarded a University of Waikato doctoral scholarship and says her research will contribute to the ongoing debates over traditional, alternative and complementary therapies.

Her doctoral supervisors are two historians and a biologist. “There’s a really vibrant culture in the History Department, there’s a lot of postgraduate students, so it’s a good environment to be in. Sometimes study at this level can be a bit lonely but when there’s a group of you, you can discuss your issues and encourage each other when the going gets tough.”

Supporting Students

Professor C. Kay Weaver is the Pro Vice-Chancellor Postgraduate at Waikato. She says it’s essential postgraduate students are well-supported and the University’s postgraduate research month means the students get plenty of opportunity to talk about their work in faculty conferences, they can attend workshops and compete in the Thesis in 3 competition – where students have to outline their research in three minutes before a panel of judges.

“I think it’s important that we acknowledge the valuable contributions our postgraduate students are making to the world of scholarship and the creation of new knowledge and we’re also conscious we have to prepare them for a life after their degree, whether they plan to remain in academia or leave for careers in other research institutes, or go into business. We encourage them to publish, present, tutor and teach, which helps them on the academic job market and makes them more rounded for work outside academia too.”

Find out more about Postgraduate Research Month.