To mark International Women's Day this year we are celebrating some of the professional and academic staff who make our College a world-leading institution for research and teaching on Asia and the Pacific.
In this piece, we chat to Bianca Hennessy, PhD Candidate and ARC Laureate Administrator for ANU Gender, Media and Cultural Studies.
What inspired you to get into your field of research and why?
I fell into Pacific Studies by happy accident – I took PASI2001 in my fourth year of undergrad with no Pacific-related knowledge at all, and then ran with it to Honours and now a PhD. I love my field of research because it’s all about learning about ourselves and our Oceanic neighbours with a distinctly decolonial underpinning – you get to learn about vibrant and ancient cultures with a healthy dollop of social justice along the way. It satisfies my intellectual curiosity but also my political values, and the people involved always find a way to warm my heart.
Who is a woman in your field that you look up to?
First and foremost, my supervisor Katerina Teaiwa. I don’t really know what my life would look like now if it weren’t for her encouragement and guidance, and her research pushes the boundaries between research and art in a really exciting way. Other than that, my recent PhD fieldwork allowed me to meet women all over the Pacific who are running fantastic Pacific Studies programs or doing awesome activism (shout-out to April Henderson in NZ, Frances Koya Vaka’uta in Fiji and Brooke Takala in the Marshall Islands/Fiji!) I’m inspired by women who blend their academic insights with creativity, activism, and innovative pedagogy.
What is a teaching/research project you are currently working on that motivates you?
This year I’m diving into the writing phase of my PhD and been surprisingly energised by it, actually – I get to listen to all of the conversations I had with people during my travels and try to write something that celebrates their work. Writing a thesis is a difficult but deeply gratifying challenge. Other than that, I really love getting involved in lots of organisational things at uni – figuring out how we can improve postgraduate experiences across campus, and welcome more students into the Pacific Studies community.
What are you most proud of?
Hmm – I’ve made a habit of throwing myself in the deep end, whether it be beginning a PhD in field that was fairly new to me, or saying yes to whatever committee work that comes my way. Sometimes it takes me a little while to find my feet, but I’ve always felt that the journey was worth it. It’s a good feeling when you realise that something that once seemed impossible is now just part of your routine.
What’s your advice to your younger self about choosing the right path and juggling life’s different demands?
The eternal wisdom we’d all give our younger selves – don’t worry too much! And ask for help more – I used to think that potential mentors wouldn’t have time for me, but I’ve gained so much from the tremendous amount of wisdom and goodwill that exists right here at ANU. I probably still need to refine my juggling skills but I try to look at it from a big-picture mode – if you can find yourself in a balance of feeling like you’re being looked after, while also taking care of the world around you, you’re onto a good thing.
Image: Bianca Hennessy (right) with supervisor Professor Katerina Teaiwa.