USP Postgrad Experiences: Research Associate Milena Söhnen


The University of the South Pacific (USP) attracts upcoming academics from across the globe, and its postgraduate programmes offer world-renowned education in a range of fields.

Milena Söhnen, a graduate of Bremen University in Germany, is currently expanding her bachelor’s in biology with a master’s in marine studies at USP.

And how did she end up at a university 16,000km from her home? Well, her supervisor at Bremen knew USP researcher Dr Rajesh Prasad from his previous projects in marine studies, and much of her working group also had connections with USP, despite the distance.

USP postgraduate programmes keep pace with universities the world over and have clearly earned the esteem of many international researchers.

Milena’s current research involves Pacific sea grapes, known as Nama, in veins of study such as how to increase their nutritional value, optimise their growing conditions, and ensure long-term sustainability in their harvesting.

Her research is split between real-life examinations of Nama samples and harvesting practices in Fiji and genetic analysis back in Germany. Not only is her research breaking new ground in marine studies, but the positive applications it may have for Pacific peoples are clear.

“My daily life involves doing my experiments, taking care of the sea grapes in the lab at the lower campus, and doing literature, research, and writing. Every other week, and my study colleague Hannah Mendl and I travel to Namauimada in the Ra Province to collect data and go out with the women who harvest the sea grapes. Of course, I also try to see some of Fiji’s beauty on the weekends!”

In the two months of work in Fiji, Milena is grateful for USP’s aquaculture lab on the lower campus in Laucala, and commends the technicians that USP provides her and her colleagues with.

Despite monsoons quashing her initial intentions to travel to Vietnam for research, Milena said that the prospect of Fiji always seemed “very appealing”, and perfect for her research.

She is just one of many post-grad students of all disciplines loving their time at USP. In 2022 alone, USP produced 202 research outputs – perhaps Milena will contribute to the effort to surpass this number in 2023.

Milena is working within USP’s School of Agriculture, Geography, Environment, Ocean, and Natural Sciences (SAGEONS); one of USP’s most prominent schools.

There are five other schools covering business, engineering, education, and the other core university disciplines, as well as specialised majors such as pacific arts. All of these schools offer full post-graduate options to a majority of their majors: postgraduate certificate, postgraduate diploma, masters, and Doctor of Philosophy.

USP boasts 18 internationally accredited programmes and is considered by expert bodies Times Higher Education and WURI to be one of the premier universities in all of Oceania.


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