PhD project profiles

Read about the International Institute of Modern Letters’ current PhD candidates and their projects.


The International Institute of Modern Letters (IIML) launched New Zealand's first PhD creative writing programme in 2008.

The writers who have joined the programme are working on a wide range of topics, and their supervisors come from an equally wide range of academic departments. While primary supervisors are usually staff from the IIML, co/secondary supervisors have come from Schools as diverse as Architecture, Art History, Gender and Women's Studies, Linguistics and Applied Languages, Te Kawa a Māui / Māori Studies, Nursing, Midwifery and Health, the English and Theatre programmes of SEFTMS, and Va'aomanu Pasifika / Pacific Studies.

Regular group meetings provide a forum for PhD students (and their supervisors) to discuss their work in progress and take turns to present aspects of it in an informal and supportive atmosphere.

The descriptions below reflect the students' thinking at the time they contributed. However, we attempt to update these from time to time, to reflect the progress of each project.

You can read about previous students' projects on our PhD graduates page. You can also read about some of our MA graduates on our MA graduate showcase page.

Claire Baylis

Claire’s novel and critical thesis will explore the experience and perspectives of jurors in our criminal justice system, with a focus on sexual violence cases.

Ben Egerton

Ben’s thesis will illuminate aspects of religious faith and doubt, through the poetry of Symmons Roberts and a complementary collection of his own new work.

Miles Fuller

Miles is investigating how human beings exceed the limitations of the body to reach a state of chronic pain, and the limits of language in describing that pain.

Justine Jungersen-Smith

Justine’s hybrid form doctoral work will draw on interview material to examine how imagining the future feels from Aotearoa New Zealand in 2017.

Nikki-Lee Birdsey

Nikki-Lee Birdsey is a poet currently researching the intersections of memoir, place, exile and hybrid genres in the work of W.G. Sebald and others.

Helen Innes

Helen’s novel is set in the local bush & includes the weird & wonderful world of warblish - birdsong vocalisations or mnemonics in folklore and birding guides.

Mikaela Nyman

Mikaela is writing a novel set in Vanuatu. Her critical thesis explores women’s empowerment and creativity in Vanuatu and their public voices.

Lena Tichy

Lena is writing a historical novel about U.S. intelligence in Switzerland in 1945. Her critical thesis examines the queering of masculinity in fiction.

Valerie Arvidson

Valerie is exploring picture and photo-embedded fiction through the analysis of three novels complemented by a collection of her linked short stories.

Monica Macansantos

Monica is writing a novel about the nature of complicity in Marcos-era Philippines, and a critical study of the Martial Law Novel.

Alison McLachlan

Alison is examining the relationship between chaos theory and narrative complexity in television dramas, to inform the story and structure of her own TV series.

Amy Leigh Wicks

While my poems explore identity and place, my critical thesis will focus on J.K. Baxter and how to write with authenticity as a poet.

Peter Cox

Peter is writing a six-part tv drama series, while examining the relationship between television ‘writers rooms’ and individual authorship.

Kate Duignan

Kate's PhD is a novel narrated in first person, and a study of narration and ethics in Marilynne Robinson's Gilead novels, particularly Gilead itself.