The first Pasifika academics at the University of Auckland's business school are two Tongan women, graduating tomorrow with PhDs.

Sisikula Sisifa and Ilaisaane Fifita, both 31, started working as research fellows at the Business School this year.

"When I was a student, I wished there were Pasifika female academics in the business school," said Sisifa.

"Now I get comments from students saying that it's nice to see a brown female face standing at the front of the class."

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Fifita said one young male Pacific student told her that having her as an undergraduate tutor had inspired him to do an honours degree.

For Sisifa, her graduation will be bittersweet.

Her management PhD topic and her decision to pursue doctorate were both inspired by her father, Alekisanita Sisifa, who passed away suddenly in her third year.

"He was proud and very supportive when I started," she said.

"It's sad he won't be able to bask in this milestone with us."

Sisifa's PhD examines management practices in five development projects in Tonga, which found cultural differences in thinking about management practices undermined the projects' success.

With Tonga receiving a substantial amount of donor aid funding towards development projects, the wasted potential is significant.

"Donor agencies and international consultants need to understand there are cultural nuances and adapt their practices.

"The different Tongan ministries need to make their systems more efficient and effective," she said.

Ilaisaane Fifita was inspired to study marketing after watching her family start their own business from scratch. Photo/ supplied
Ilaisaane Fifita was inspired to study marketing after watching her family start their own business from scratch. Photo/ supplied

Fifita, who moved to Auckland in her final year of high school, said watching her parents build their family business from scratch was what inspired her to study the subject.

Fifita is graduating with a PhD in marketing, researching why Tongan and Pakeha female non-smokers don't smoke.

She hopes her findings will help design of public health campaigns to persuade other women not to take up the habit.

Fifita interviewed 27 Tongan New Zealand and New Zealand European women to see whether the way a person defines themselves in relation to others influences their motivations for resisting pressure to smoke tobacco cigarettes.

She'd watched family members suffer with, and some die of smoking-related diseases and worried for her nieces and nephews.

One in four Pacific adults smoke in New Zealand, compared to 15 per cent of New Zealand Europeans and 10 per cent of Asian New Zealanders.

It's assumed that Pacific women's sense of self is anchored in family - as daughters, sisters, granddaughters, nieces, cousins, wives and mothers, rather than as individuals, she said.

But she found the Tongan women in her study also had an independent sense of self.

"It's important to highlight both family values and empowerment and independence to young Pacific women to increase their ability to say 'no' to smoking, especially in situations of peer pressure," said Fifita.

She is now applying for funding for research into e-cigarettes and alcohol consumption.