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Melanie Mark-Shadbolt

Melanie Mark-Shadbolt (Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Porou, Te Arawa, Te Ati Awa) bridges the gap between science and Mātauranga Māori.

Mel MSWhat do you do on an average work day?
I’m not sure what an average day is because it can vary so much. My work is predominately about helping researchers/scientists and Māori bridge the gap between science and Mātauranga Māori. I spend a fair amount of time traveling, in meetings or hui or doing paperwork.

I work with students, so that might include working with my postgrads or actively seeking out Māori undergraduate students studying towards STEM degrees and nagging or bribing them into doing postgraduate study. I might do guest lecturing one day and then run a wānanga the next.

I live for the days that I get to do my research, so that might be catching up on some reading, getting out visiting a community and or interviewing someone, or presenting at a conference or hui nationally or internationally.

What did you study at school? And after high school?
At school I studied a bit of everything from Te Reo Māori to Classical Studies, Art History, and Physics.

After school I gained a Bachelor of Arts in Māori and Political Science from the University of Canterbury and a Postgraduate Diploma in Social Science from Lincoln University.

I’ve also been working towards my MBA at Massey University over the past couple of years and I have done professional development courses such as University of Canterbury’s project management and the Unitec’s He Ara Tika: Māori mentoring programme.

Was your study directly related to what you do now?
No way! I actually started in Law. My BA papers were really diverse and included peace studies, classical studies and lots of international and wartime politics papers. What I did obtain through my undergraduate studies though was a really diverse set of skills and an ability to think critically. My postgraduate studies really taught me how to do social science research and great mentoring has honed my skills.

What would you like to share with young women who are thinking about their career choices right now?
I think one of the hardest questions for any young person to answer is the ‘what do you want to do when you grow up’ question. I had no idea what I wanted to do, but I knew what I didn’t want to do. So my advice is to keep your options open and think about what interests you. You don’t need to rush into anything, take time and experience life – life experience is absolutely the best skill to gain! 

There are some core subjects that you should probably try and maintain such as science, but remember science comes in many forms, including social and indigenous. I also believe you need to look for and grab as many opportunities as you can so keep your eyes wide open.

Surround yourself with positive and intelligent people. You should engage in debate with people who stretch your mind, and sometimes your patience. Our greatest thinkers, such as Dr Ranginui Walker and Sir Mason Durie, allowed themselves time to read about and debate issues just like we do on the marae.

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What are some of your career highlights so far?

  • My research around effects of the Canterbury earthquakes on Māori and experiences of first responders has been extremely rewarding, as has my work promoting the integration and embedding of Mātauranga Māori within the science system.
  • Being part of the team that secured and is managing the New Zealand’s Biological Heritage National Science Challenge has been satisfying because the Challenge is embedding and recognising the importance of Mātauranga Māori.
  • Presenting research in and or visiting for work really interesting places such as Peru, Australia and Chile.

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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?
STEM related industries are largely recognised as the industries with the greatest opportunity for increases in productivity and value add, and scientific advancement is often the driver of stable economies. For those reasons alone we should at the very least understand what STEM can do for our industries and country as a whole.

Also research shows that STEM graduates typically earn more than other graduates and end up in ‘helping’ professions that build and transform communities. Those professions are the ones that are usually working to find solutions for global warming/climate change, cancer, disappearing habitats, food security, world hunger and the like. For our indigenous communities STEM degrees are part of the key to economic prosperity and social wellbeing. We need STEM graduates who can address issues of importance to our communities and translate the technical knowledge into something digestible for them.

Why is it important to have more women working in STEM?
Diversity! We need more women, more Māori, more Pasifika. Diversity brings different worldviews and different approaches which is vital. Women tend to use their intuition, communication and collaborative skills more.

Melanie Mark-Shadbolt (Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Porou, Te Arawa, Te Ati Awa) bridges the gap between science and Mātauranga Māori:

You can follow Melanie on twitter at @MelMarkShad

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