Emily (Ngāti Porou, Te Aitanga a Mate, Chinese, Pākehā) is a Research Officer at the Joint Centre for Disaster Research, exploring design thinking in science communication.
What do you do on an average work day?
I think my favourite thing about my work is that no two days are usually the same. I have the luxury of working across a range of different projects nationally and internationally which provides a lot of variety. I am incredibly passionate about issues of social justice and I value how my work enables me to make a difference in people lives.
I work in the field of emergency management. Here, as researchers and scientists, we work around disaster risk reduction to enable effective communication pathways to policy and practice for people and communities.
A big part of what I do seeks to understand human-centred aspects of how we might improve comprehension of research findings to ensure appropriate knowledge transfer, end-user engagement and behavioural change. This includes applying design thinking in problem-solving to create innovative, out of the box products and processes.
What did you study at school? And after high school?
At high school I studied visual arts in addition to English, classics, calculus and physics. Having such a broad range of interests meant that when the time came to think about tertiary study I had a lot of options. In the end I decided to do a Bachelor of Design with Honours at Massey University, majoring in Visual Communication because arts and design were more innovative and people-focused. I liked the creative process. I liked the structure of doing research to inform practically orientated outputs.
For my honours project in my final year, I created a board game called Master the Market. This was a response to the fast approaching macroeconomic and fiscal pressures of an ageing Aotearoa New Zealand. The aim was to educate individuals with a sound knowledge of financial literacy using a simulation board game. This concept allowed players to participate in constructivism (experience-based) learning - where people could use conversation and collaboration to come up with their own understanding of key financial concepts such as investing and saving.
Was your study directly related to what you do now?
Yes and no. At first glance, a career in disaster risk reduction research doesn’t seem like the natural progression from a design degree. However, on reflection, I seem to have found myself situated in a space that combines all of my interests. These include design, communication, and behavioural science.
One of the key intersections between my field of study and the role I am in now is the storytelling I use to communicate information. Narrative has the power to transcend backgrounds, cultures and generations to deliver content in an engaging manner. From a Māori perspective, oral storytelling is our primary medium for engaging with our history, whānau and tīpuna - those that came before us.
What would you like to share with young women who are thinking about their career choices right now?
I feel as though, as women and wāhine in a patriarchal system, we are constructed to feel unworthy of certain opportunities that come our way. But I encourage young women to challenge this. It is not true. We deserve to grab every opportunity, therefore it’s important to remember that if your heart's in it, and it’s something that you're passionate about, you just need to back yourself.
While this is something that I sometimes struggle with, I find that it’s useful to surround myself with a support system that will boost me up rather than tear me down. Remember to stick with those who care about your wellbeing.
What are some of your career highlights so far?
Something pretty remarkable for me has been travelling to China over the past year to attend a number of conferences, and also speaking at an international meeting on high impact weather events. Being a quarter Chinese myself made experiencing the culture first-hand even more extraordinary.
Another cool thing I was able to do was travel to the East Coast of the North Island, where I whakapapa to, for a series of three-day geohazard science camps with intermediate schools in the region. The hands-on activities drew on the local environment, history and people - my whakapapa - to create content that was real and immediate for students. Engaging with children who are just getting started in STEM was fulfilling, inspiring and energising. Such a privilege.
Why do you believe engaging in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) is important to Aotearoa New Zealand?
With the rapidly increasing technological advancements and digitalisation of our changing world, and the impact of climate change, I think it’s important to simultaneously adapt to our environments - whether that be what is happening immediately or in the future, as well as nationally and globally.
It’s not about changing to fit in, but about equipping ourselves with knowledge to make informed choices and decisions, and additionally support those who aren't as easily able to make such decisions. This needs to happen at all levels, whether that be personal, whānau or community.
Why is it important to have more women working in STEM?
Being situated in STEM academia, it’s easy to see the gap in representation of both women and wāhine in comparison to men and tāne. Of course this can also be said for people more broadly in terms of those whom are marginalised within our society whose viewpoints are also necessary. I think there is a lot of good that can be achieved by the inclusion of diverse perspectives.
Emily (Ngāti Porou, Te Aitanga a Mate, Chinese, Pākehā) is a Research Officer at Massey University’s Joint Centre for Disaster Research, exploring the role of design thinking in science communication.
This profile is part of our series of girls and women in STEM.
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