Sira Engelbertz

'Antarctica provides a very unique case to study the human relationship with nature...'

  • Sira Engelbertz

PhD in Antarctic Studies

It was a three-month stay in Ushuaia, a small city in the South of Patagonia, Argentina, that sparked Sira's life-changing interest in Antarctica.

'I went to Ushuaia for an internship at two local museums as part of my master's programme with the University of Leipzig, where I was studying Cultural Studies. The city's relative proximity to Antarctica could be felt very clearly, and through the museums and libraries I learned more about the icy continent and the Antarctic Treaty. I became fascinated by Antarctica, where everything seemed to work differently because of its isolation and powerful nature.'

This led to Sira focusing for her master's thesis on people's motives to travel to Antarctica, from the explorer age to modern tourism. She then won a UC Doctoral scholarship to come to Gateway Antarctica to do further study. As a social scientist, the focus of her research here was also around human connections with Antarctica.

'Taking human values as the bridging element that connects that isolated Antarctic nature with civilisation, I scrutinised the specific values that drive the political discourses on ship-borne tourism and the implications of climate change in Antarctica.'

Sira describes her PhD as a 'long and challenging programme' but she has enjoyed it thoroughly, not least because of her study environment.

'Gateway Antarctica is a very friendly and open department. I had never received so much support from a university department before, and was even given the chance to visit Antarctica, which was a momentous experience for me, both personally and professionally. Antarctica provides a very unique case to study the human relationship with nature. You can learn a lot about yourself and your fellows. The PhD challenged me to get out of my comfort zone and prove what I was capable of.

'UC's Postgraduate Office and the Postgraduate Students' Association (PGSA) are very active in organising career development and social events. I particularly enjoyed chatting with other students, postdocs and lecturers and listing to live music over Friday after-work drinks on campus. The Academic Skills Centre was very helpful too, with advice and practical tips on conference presentations, manuscripts or even thesis writing.'

'A PhD might be your once in a lifetime opportunity to study something you really care about and without having any responsibilities beside your student commitments. Try to make the most of it and enjoy the journey.'

Sira arrived in Christchurch from Germany five days before Canterbury's February 2011 earthquake, but that didn't stop her experience as an international student being a positive one.

'Despite the rocky start - or maybe because of it - I always felt welcomed and supported by the community. I made friends with people from all over the world and met my now husband,' she says.

'I like travelling and learning about different cultures and their history. I enjoy music and contemporary art, and go to concerts and museums as often as I can.'

Sira is a member of the Association of Polar Early Career Scientists (APECS), an international network of students, educators and others involved in the Polar Regions, and is organising its inaugural World Summit in Sofia, Bulgaria.

As for the future, Sira wants to expand and continue her Antarctic research, and hopes to become involved in policy-making and governance.

William Dobson

Wills Dobson

'UC has great connections with Antarctica...'

Jodi Gustafson

Jodi Gustafson

'Canterbury’s Gateway Antarctic research centre was a great pull for me to study at UC...'