Dr Shamalka Perera


If there’s a will, there is always a way

Back in 2012, when Dr Shamalka Perera first visited Aotearoa New Zealand with her parents, she fell in love with the beauty and tranquillity of this country. Driving along the road, she caught a glimpse of Massey University’s Auckland campus and saw the beautiful buildings and lush green surroundings from a distance. The sight of the sun setting over the campus filled her with excitement and awe, and at that moment, she knew this was a place she could thrive.

She thought to herself, “It’d be great if I could do my PhD here.” 

Dr Shamalka Perera

Drawing the future

Born and raised in Sri Lanka, Dr Perera had a happy and fulfilling childhood surrounded by loving parents and friends. Her family later moved to France for several years, which excited her as she was eager to explore the new culture and language. Her family later returned to Sri Lanka, where she completed her higher studies, including a Master of Business Administration (MBA).

“While researching for my MBA, I came across gender & ICT and inclusion-related articles and was instantly drawn to these two research areas. I decided to explore the inclusion experiences and perceptions of women in tech using Optimal Distinctiveness Theory (ODT) as the theoretical lens. I could not have found a better context for this study other than New Zealand, which is diverse in nature,” Dr Perera says.

Determined to make her dream a reality, Dr Perera began researching Massey’s programmes, learning about cutting-edge research in various fields. She was particularly drawn to its focus on real-world problem-solving.

To her great joy, she obtained an offer from Massey for her PhD. In 2016, along with her husband, she arrived in New Zealand, ready to begin the next chapter of her academic career.

“Needless to say, I had mixed feelings. I was happy that I took the first step to achieve my dream, but at the same time, I did not know what to expect.”

“If there’s a will, there is always a way”

She admits, the first few months were tough. Dr Perera and her husband struggled to settle in a new country. Everything was fresh and unfamiliar, and she had to adapt to living far away from her parents.

Asked how she balanced her study, family, and other commitments, Dr Perera says, “Honestly, I don’t know how, but I did it! If there’s a will, there is always a way.”

She admits that every stage of the journey was challenging - passing the PhD confirmation, obtaining ethics approval for her research, finding participants, collecting data, and attending conferences while struggling to adjust to her new environment.

“It was my dream to get a doctorate, and I’m proud that I didn’t let any obstacles get in my way. I had a baby while doing my PhD. I will never forget how I did some Zoom meetings while holding my baby in my arms or how I played with her while writing my thesis. My parents were stuck in Sri Lanka due to the pandemic, so if my husband couldn’t get leave from his full-time job, there were days I took my baby to the campus with me.”

Despite the many challenges, sleepless nights, stress, and the emotional toll the move had taken, Dr Perera thrived. She says her family has been her biggest strength.

“They helped me mentally, physically, and financially. My parents, my husband, and my daughter all made sacrifices. I couldn’t have succeeded without their support. Their unconditional love, support, and encouragement helped me throughout my PhD journey.”

After nearly five years of dedication, hard work, and perseverance, Dr Perera was honoured with a Doctor of Philosophy. “As a result of this journey, I became stronger and more resilient. Every challenge has been rewarding. I am fearless and willing to take risks, and I don’t always seek the easiest option.”

Dr Shamalka Perera

Beyond the degree

Dr Perera says Massey’s environment made it a fantastic place to study.

“The peaceful and relaxing environment helps me easily concentrate on my studies. The facilities, such as the library, workshops, recreation centre and medical centre, are great too. I also met some amazing friends, and the staff members are very supportive. My supervisory team was great, and I’m so grateful I had Dr Trish Bradbury as my main supervisor.

“I hope my daughter gets to study at Massey one day,” she adds.

Having travelled the world as a student and researcher helped her understand diversity and inclusion, and her PhD enabled her to gain a great deal of knowledge within these areas, but for Dr Perera, the journey is ongoing.

She has launched the next chapter of her journey as a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) consultant, combining her experience in consulting and her knowledge and interest in DEI to support organisations. 

“Now that I know how inclusion could benefit both organisations and their employees, I act as a bridge builder between the two parties, enabling them to succeed through inclusion. ” 

From an international student to fulfilling her dreams, Dr Perera says no matter how hard it gets, don’t let anything stop you.

“Do not be discouraged if someone says you can’t. Set goals and work towards achieving them. It’s okay to take one step at a time. Don’t be a quitter, be unstoppable!”