Ellie works in the communications team at Royal Society Te Apārangi and is studying towards a postgraduate certification in science communication.
What do you do on an average work day?
One of my favourite things about working at the Royal Society Te Apārangi is that every day can be different. I get the chance to peer into the worlds of New Zealand’s brightest minds in a myriad of different fields.
I often spend my mornings combing through press releases from universities and research institutes for exciting new research updates or helping my colleagues with uploading content onto our website.
What did you study at school? And after high school?
I think my subject choices were largely influenced by my upbringing. I lived in Bosnia for two years from the age of 8-10 and the diversity of culture I was exposed to - as well as seeing first-hand the long-standing effects of civil war - had a significant impact on me and the path I wanted to take in life.
Growing up in New Zealand, a comfortable middle-class life, was easy to take for granted. I still value the experiences given to me by friends I made in Bosnia, who taught me to pursue what you are passionate about in life – because you only have one and you don't know what might happen!
In high school I took visual arts, English, statistics, biology and I dabbled in chemistry and physics in Year 12. My school also offered 'outdoor pursuits', a fantastic subject that teaches you practical outdoors skills like navigation and avalanche safety as well as activities like skiing and kayaking.
I skied competitively for many years when I was younger and travelled between New Zealand and Switzerland for training and events. So schooling took a bit of a back seat for me, until I realised I wanted to do more with my life than just ski.
After year 13, much like most of my friends, I trucked off to university with the aim to succeed and tackle a degree I thought could help me contribute to the world around me, where I thought I could make a difference.
I very quickly realised that Neuroscience and myself were not really that good friends after all! I adored learning about the brain and all of the cool things that happen inside our nervous system, but I hated the nitty gritty. All of the fantastic phenomena I was learning about were quickly drowned out among learning pages and pages of chemical reactions and anatomical names.
Even though I knew I wasn’t enjoying my studies, I forged on because I thought that would be right thing to do. I thought perhaps it would be shameful to give up, and that people would think I wasn’t smart enough to pass my course. But eventually I decided to pack in it and go back home to Wanaka for a year.
It was a tough call to make to leave in the middle of a degree, but I knew that my passions lay elsewhere and I have always been the type of person who needs to love what they do. So, I took a gap year in the middle of my degree and spent some time at home thinking about what I wanted to do with my life.
Was your study directly related to what you do now?
After what I like to refer to as my ‘sabbatical year’ I packed up my two horses and my bags and moved back to Dunedin to finish a Bachelor of Science in Psychology, which I supplemented with science communication papers (which are now leading me into a post-graduate qualification!).
I was lucky enough to get a job at the organisation that I would consider to be one of the leading pioneers of science communication work in New Zealand. So yes, I would say that what I studied directly relates to what I do now!
What would you like to share with young women who are thinking about their career choices right now?
I would just like to say that looking back now, it was an easy decision to make to leave university - but at the time it was very difficult.
Everyone told me that once I had dropped out of university, I would never want to go back - and for a while I believed them.
I spent a year working on the same ski-field where I had spent so many hours of my youth.
I let myself grow and I observed the world around me, as there are always so many people from every continent flowing constantly through ski towns. I found myself learning just as much as I did at University, though I learnt about life, and about people rather than science.
At the end of that year, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life. Sometimes we aren’t all lucky enough to know exactly what we want to do straight out of high-school and if that is you, that is totally OK!
Follow what your passion leads you to, or just take some time to learn about yourself if you don’t feel a certain path is right for you – even if it’s what everyone else thinks you ought to be doing.
What are some of your career highlights so far?
My entire career so far at Te Apārangi has been a highlight if I’m honest!
Though for me one of my favourite experiences was getting to sit in on our new Fellows induction where I got to listen to presentations about the absolutely mind-boggling, incredible research our top scientists are doing.
I have also enjoyed being able to write about and research exciting new developments in science for my job, as it is one of my favourite things to do in my spare time too!
Why do you believe engaging in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) is important to New Zealand?
STEM is so crucially important to our evolving society, and it really is so vital that we continue to encourage our young Kiwis to engage with it.
Though we are a tiny country, New Zealand punches well above its weight per-capita for the standard of research and development (R&D) we produce.
Everybody, no matter their race, gender or abilities deserves to have a say in the direction R&D in NZ takes, even if they don’t want to be working directly in the lab - because every single person is impacted by technology and science within their lives.
Why is it important to have more women working in STEM?
Having more women working integral roles in STEM has been a long battle over history. For many decades women, and minorities have had to fight what sometimes might have seemed like an uphill battle to achieve the right to even vote or to own their own homes.
The considerable suffering and sacrifices so many brave women made in the past, were to provide our generation with the ability to become whatever we want. Take the gift of independence these women of the past gave you, and use it to pursue whatever career you want.
Take advantage of the opportunities that are presented to you and you will be rewarded in knowing that we as women, are able to provide our unique female voices to issues that were for so long completely male-dominated.
As Henry Ford once said, “whether you believe you can or whether you believe you can’t, you are absolutely right”. No dream is too big if you are willing to go for it!
Ellie works in the communications team at Royal Society Te Apārangi, a charitable organisation that provides funding and policy advice in the fields of sciences and the humanities.
This profile is part of our series of girls and women in STEM.
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