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Ocean Mercier

Dr Ocean Mercier (Ngāti Porou) is a Senior Lecturer at Victoria University. She has a PhD in condensed matter physics and was the presenter of Project Mātauranga, a science series on Māori TV.


What do you do on an average work day?
I work with students, current and former, either lecturing or tutoring them, chatting one on one, providing a reference or information. Preparing lectures, questions, activities for class, public seminars and conference presentations requires a lot of reading of books, journals and the internet to keep up with current research and events.

I might be at the marae welcoming new students and staff, celebrating graduate success or listening to kōrero. I could be flying a drone, taking photos at the beach, making a video, editing a website or recording someone’s audio commentary for their 48 Hour Film Competition film. I might be in the office, in the lecture theatre, elsewhere in Aotearoa or even overseas, presenting my research at a conference. There really is no such thing as an average work day in academia!

What did you study at school? And after high school?
Besides the core subjects I studied Physics, Chemistry, Statistics, Calculus and French in Secondary School. At Victoria University of Wellington I studied Physics, Maths and Geography towards a BSc, then did a BScHons, then did a PhD in condensed matter physics. And then I started a BA in Te Reo Māori!

Was your study directly related to what you do now?
Not directly related at all: I’ve gone from Physics to Māori studies – quite a leap! I love languages, and although studying French is very different from Māori, knowing other languages helps with my current context, in which at least half of my colleagues teach Te Reo. I teach courses on Māori science, and Indigenous science, so I think now about science in its sociological context rather than its physical mechanics. I’ve had to learn a lot that I wasn’t specifically taught, and the university is a great environment because it doesn’t just encourage that, it expects it.

What would you like to share with young women who are thinking about their career choices right now?
Don’t be afraid to ‘make a mistake’ in your choices. I studied physics right through to PhD level but I don’t use physics in my job now! Nonetheless the pathway has led me to have what I consider one of the most enriching, stimulating and fulfilling careers you can have.

What are some of your career highlights so far?

  • Presenting the TV series Project Mātauranga was pretty special. It is a science show that filled a gaping hole in New Zealand television, the lack of any local science (Māori TV is doing that a lot with its programming of local content).
  • Being involved in building the online Te Kawa a Māui Atlas and introducing maps and map-based activities into the Te Kawa a Māui programme – a first for any school of Māori studies – is my passion. In the project I get to indulge my love of the outdoors, our whenua, maps and navigation (I’m an orienteer) while also exploring how Māori do and can ‘claim’ the map to further the interests of our people.
  • Presenting research in places as diverse as Peru, Australia, Alaska, England, Brazil, China and Hawaii.

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 TV series Project Mātauranga revealed to people how amazingly diverse New Zealand science is, and that’s just the research to which Māori are contributing. From a Māori and Indigenous perspective the science we are doing here is groundbreaking and worldleading. So just to be aware of the research going on here and how it’s contributing to our nation is important. Science not only CAN address issues, but actually it MUST. Understanding how it does, can and must address issues is important for all of us.

Why is it important to have more women working in STEM?
It’s important because in some fields the balance is still tipped so heavily the other way. Diversity of background and perspective in any field helps with finding creative measures and solutions.

Dr Ocean Mercier (Ngāti Porou) is a Senior Lecturer, Te Kawa a Māui (School of Māori Studies), Victoria University of Wellington. She has a PhD in condensed matter physics, and was the presenter of Project Mātauranga, a science series on Māori TV celebrating Māori innovation in the science sector. You can check out the series on demand here.

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

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