Skip to page content
You are here: Home > Profiles > Marie McDonald

Marie McDonald

Marie McDonald is a Masters student studying the ecology of cave weta, a single parent and a part time lab assistant at Lincoln University.

Marie with wetaWhat do you do on an average work day?
I don’t have an average 9-5 day as I am a single mum. If I am doing field work my day can start in the early morning around 7am (with a sleep for a few hours in the afternoon) then working right though to 1am or later in the morning. 

If I'm at home I start around 5.30am as my kids need to be out by 7am. I head out to uni to work on my masters research and writing. When I am assisting in the lab that's also 1-2 hours a few times a week, and in between all of this I am applying for jobs. Doing all these things at the same time means, very long hours, sometimes frustrating, but a rewarding process in the end.

 Was your study directly related to what you do now?
No! It was the influence of an amazing agriculture class teacher while I was in high school.

When I left high school I went to work for the Wildlife Service as part of their ranger programme. The Wildlife Service later became part of the Department of Conservation (DOC).

I then worked in a bird park for around 6 years working with kiwi, black stilts, brown teal, and other really cool endemic/native species. I have also done a lot of volunteer work with DOC ranging from running around after bats to a study on weta in the Wakatipu basin for 6 years.

I found a weta in my bathroom and it started me down this path. The Canterbury earthquake also played a part in me studying science - my first degree is as a primary teacher but following the earthquake I wasn’t able to get work so came to Lincoln University to study science.

What would you like to share with young women who are thinking about their career choices right now?
Don’t let anyone stop you! I can remember a high school teacher telling us not to bother sitting high school exams because we weren’t smart enough. That stuck with me. I didn’t find out until I was in my 30’s that I had a form of dyslexia. It has been an uphill battle but if you have a goal and work hard and have passion you can do anything.

Find someone that can help you and surround yourself with positive people. Do some volunteer work as that can help to get your foot in the door but it can also give you the opportunity to see what the job is like and if it is for you.

Passion is really important, I would not have been able to get to the places that I have been if I had not had passion. People really respect someone that has passion as it shows them commitment, drive, and willingness to learn. I never thought in a million years that I would be doing a Master of Science as a mature student, but I am and have loved every second even when it’s been hard juggling family.

What are some of your career highlights so far?
I have so many highlights it is hard to choose:

  • Spending a week on Little Barrier Island (where the largest giant weta are found) and having to give way to a kiwi crossing in front of me.
  • Seeing a giant weta and their nymphs (baby weta) moult (like other insects, as the weta grows it sheds its hard outer layer, or exoskeleton).
  • Flying into Mueller Hut in Mt Cook then searching for giant weta at night - the picture below shows the view as we flew in.
  • Getting to go to Codifsh Island in the Foveaux straight to survey giant weta. The island had nothing, including no water, so we had to take everything. We had to get out there by the coast guard who thought we were mad for wanting to stay for 4 days.
  • Just exploring, because when you explore you find amazing things like new species of weta. That is pretty cool.
  • Having my son in a school that understood learning doesn’t always have to be in a classroom has been great. I have been able to take my son on a number of field trips including spending a week on Dog Island and three months in the field radio tracking giant weta.
  • Working at night. Most of my field work is at night and alone which I love. There are so many amazing things that come out at night you just don’t see during the day. I love taking my friends out and it’s really rewarding to see their eyes light up when they see things they have never seen before.

And lastly, the people. I have been so lucky to meet some of the most amazing people. They all have so much passion, drive, and willingness to help. I have been able to learn a lot from them and also the other way around. 

 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?
The world would not move forward if we didn’t have science and technology. It assists in so many areas from medicine to researching species so they don’t become extinct.

Why is it important to have more women working in STEM?
We think differently to men and add value to any research. I think It’s really important that we work together, if we combined the value of both sexes the science and technology would be just mind blowing. We still have a long way to go to include women more into the sciences and technology but profiles like this will enable young women to see that they can and are playing an important part in society.

Marie McDonald is a Masters student studying the ecology of cave weta, a single parent and a part time lab assistant at Lincoln University.

This profile is part of our series of girls and women in STEM. 
See more profiles >>