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Kimberley Collins

Kimberley Collins is a science communicator working in online communications at Forest & Bird.

Kimberley with a whole lot of penguinsWhat do you do on an average work day?
Forest & Bird is New Zealand’s leading independent environmental organisation, and I help to give our amazing and unique nature a voice – through social media, our website, and email newsletters.

Not many people can say they spend their work day using social media – but that’s exactly what I do. I run our Facebook and Twitter pages, as well as our website and email newsletters. I love engaging with a range of people from all over New Zealand and hearing their great stories of pest control, the birds they see in their backyards and their adventures in nature. It’s also a cool way to share my passion for conservation with a group of people who love it too!

I also get to visit our 50+ branches all over New Zealand and tell their amazing stories. It’s my favourite part of this job – it’s so refreshing to work with people who are so passionate about conservation and protecting our planet.

Over the years, my passion for nature has taken me all around New Zealand, as well as to Antarctica, the Subantarctic Islands and other offshore sanctuaries. I’ve been up close and personal with kākāpō and worked with kākā, penguins and other great native species.

Last year, I went to the Antipodes Islands as a volunteer with the Million Dollar Mouse project. They want to eradicate mice from the remote, bird-rich islands, which are about 750 kilometres southeast of New Zealand. I was writing blogs, making videos, taking photos – all while trying to haul some pretty heavy gear up a cliff and over an abandoned penguin colony.

What did you study at school? And after high school? 
When I was in high school, I was really into two subjects that aren’t usually studied together – science and drama. Perhaps that’s telling of my eventual career in science communication!

After high school, I decided I wanted to teach and studied primary school teaching for a semester. I couldn’t escape my love for science, and decided to try a degree in biological science with plans to become a high school science teacher.

But after falling in love with ecology and conservation, and volunteering for a range of wonderful organisations, I thought – this is what I want to do – this is what I am passionate about.

A stint working in public programmes at Waikato Museum changed everything and persuaded me communicating about conservation was what I wanted to do. So I went down to Otago University to get my Masters in Science Communication!

I have done social media work for NZ Birds Online (a project by Te Papa), the Yellow-Eyed Penguin Trust, the Centre for Science Communication – all sorts!

I spent a year working at Zealandia, exploring their 225 hectare sanctuary and spending my workday with tuatara, hihi, tieke, kiwi – all sorts of wild & wonderful species.

Now I am at Forest & Bird where I get to be a voice for nature & advocate for its protection!

Was your study directly related to what you do now?
Absolutely! Learning about how the world works during my undergraduate degree was eye opening and even though I didn’t get straight As, I learned a lot of practical skills by volunteering for conservation organisations.

When I started doing science communication, we did a lot of practical work – and so I learned how to tell good stories, critique my own writing, produce short films and so much more.

Volunteer work helped me build networks of people who supported me in my career, while developing good people skills, which is the most important part of conservation. As the Māori whakatauki goes - “he aha te mea nui? He tangata. He tangata. He tangata!” (what is the most important thing? It is people, it is people, it is people).

What would you like to share with young women who are thinking about their career choices right now?
I encourage everyone to celebrate their failures. Doing something wrong is nothing to be ashamed of – turn it into a positive experience by understanding where you went wrong, and making sure you do it better next time!

Surround yourself by supporting and inspiring women. If they shine – you’ll shine, and you can lean on each other when you need. Remember that when others bully you or try to undermine your confidence, it’s a result of their insecurities – and you shouldn’t take it personally!

What are some of your career highlights so far? 
Where do I start? Visiting Antarctica with Heritage Expeditions as a youth scholar was probably the most amazing experience I have had in my life so far. Seeing (and smelling) a colony of 60,000 penguins, having a whale swim within centimetres of our boat and walking amongst mega herbs towering over me are sights I will never forget.

But even though I have been on countless adventures in nature, I think my highlight has been overcoming all the constraints that society has put on me as an ambitious woman, finding confidence in my abilities, and kicking my Impostor Syndrome out the door.

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?
Because STEM is all around us – it’s in our moon and stars, our plants and food – that little device everyone has in their pockets? SCIENCE.

STEM is what makes the world move forward and we need to keep engaging people with it, so they can make informed decisions (like voting) and shape the society we live in for the better.

Why is it important to have more women working in STEM?
Half the human population are women – so why shouldn’t there be the same working in STEM?

Diversity in STEM matters because the different backgrounds people come from can change the way they look at the world and we need more of that in science. 

All you have to do is look back to our history to see it. Gregor Mendel came from a different background to other scientists at the time - he failed school and became the abbot of a monastery. There, he did experiments on peas and discovered that genetic traits are passed on through generations. Hardly anyone read his work or took him seriously because they couldn’t understand him, but 16 years after his death, three independent scientists rediscovered his work and now he’s considered to be the founder of modern genetics…

Kimberley Collins is a science communicator working in online communications at Forest & Bird.

This profile is part of our series of girls and women in STEM. 
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