Georgia (Ngāti Whakaue) is a PhD Candidate in Cell and Molecular Biology at Victoria University of Wellington.
What did you study at school? And after high school?
I’ve always had broad interests. At school I studied Calculus, History, Chemistry, Māori and Music; English and Biology were my favourites though. After high school I did my undergraduate BSc majoring in Biotechnology and Political Science. Since then I have completed an Honours project in 2014, followed by a Masters by thesis in 2015, both in Cell Biology.
Was your study directly related to what you do now?
Yes, in a way. Although my PhD project is more basic biology than the clinical and applied case studies we learnt about in my biotechnology degree, lots of general biological knowledge is applicable and very relevant. And although each thesis project I have done was new, the lab techniques and skills I have picked up over the years I use all the time in my current research. The politics major I don’t use right now, but hopefully one day I can use that aspect of my interests too.
What would you like to share with young women who are thinking about their career choices right now?
I would count myself as one of those thinking about career choices as well, since I have only just started my PhD. I haven’t made any concrete decisions on where I will end up, because if life so far has taught me anything, it’s that sometimes opportunities you never even considered appear in front of you. What has served me well so far is just following my interests and not letting myself be dissuaded from things I know I want to do, even if it doesn’t seem to form a coherent job skill set. Although I find it difficult, networking is one thing I’ve found invaluable. You never know what you’ll learn if you just talk to the people around you. Make an effort to step outside your comfort zone; be open to learning, new skills, new groups of people, and opportunities will find you.
What are some of your career highlights so far?
I wouldn’t say I’m even in my career yet, but I do have some highlights. For instance, completing my MSc thesis at the beginning of this year (2016) was pretty amazing, it felt wonderful to have a tangible body of work that I had done myself. Another highlight was attending a conference a couple of months ago, it was exciting to feel like a real grown up scientist and to talk one on one with amazingly smart people about their research.
Why do you believe engaging in STEM – whether it’s working in the field, studying it or just educating one’s self around the issues – is important to New Zealand?
I’m biased because I love science, but there are objective reasons why it’s important. STEM is critical to New Zealand not just because it’s important to the world in general, although it is. Progress in STEM is one good way to diversify our economy and avoid being left behind in our rapidly changing world. We have a lot of great scientists in this country, but we could do more to build the industry so that our brilliant minds that have gone overseas for work have options to come back to. In addition to that, I think science engagement and education is crucial, not just for encouraging new up and coming STEM’ers, but also for the general public. Because science and science issues permeate so much of the world: the products we use, the technology and infrastructure of our lives, the policies we debate, it’s so important that everyone has at least a foundational science literacy.
Why is it important to have more women working in STEM?
We need more women in STEM because, as we all know, women make up a smaller proportion of STEM jobs than our proportion of the population, and diversity of people is a good way to encourage a diversity of ideas and ways of addressing problems, which is of course crucial in STEM. The proportion of women in science is getting better, but the problem of underrepresentation is by no means solved. For instance, although in some areas of STEM, such as my own area of biology, the undergraduate population is sometimes dominated by women, this is not reflected at the higher levels. Nearly 70% of the senior academic staff in my school are male. In other areas of STEM, like engineering and computer science, the ratios are way worse. I really hope that eventually this will become more even.
Georgia (Ngāti Whakaue) is a PhD Candidate in Cell and Molecular Biology at the, School of Biological Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington.
This profile is part of our series of girls and women in STEM.
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