Crystal is an Environmental Advisor at Downer NZ. She is currently reconnecting communities along State Highway 1 after the November 2016 Kaikōura earthquake.
What do you do on an average work day?
My work varies day to day. As an Environmental Advisor for the North Canterbury Transport and Infrastructure Alliance (which Downer NZ is part of), I spend a portion of my time on site, working with our operational teams who have been building new roads and seawalls along SH1 after the Kaikōura earthquake damaged much of the infrastructure in November 2016.
One day I might be setting up erosion and sediment controls, and the other I might be treating alkaline water with carbon dioxide so that we can safely discharge the water from our work sites.
We have a lot of protected animals and plants, and Māori cultural sites within the project area, so I work closely with ecologists and archaeologists. I got my electric fishing certificate so I can assist with fish salvage whenever we need to carry out works in a waterway.
When I’m not on site I’m in the office in front of my computer catching up on paperwork!
What did you study at school? And after high school?
From an early age I was interested in the ocean, but particularly in marine mammals. In high school I studied biology, chemistry and maths. I also studied Latin for several years.
After high school, I completed a BSc in biology / marine science at Coastal Carolina University (USA). I then moved to St John’s, Newfoundland (Canada) to complete my MSc in conservation biology. I got to spend my summers working in small communities around Newfoundland and Labrador, studying seals and fish.
I then carried on with a PhD in Antarctic Studies at the University of Canterbury which brought me to New Zealand 10 years ago.
Was your study directly related to what you do now?
It’s not exactly related to what I do now, but it has all been relevant.
Without my background in science and the skills I developed in research and writing, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do in my current role.
What would you like to share with young women who are thinking about their career choices right now?
I’d say that you need to find a topic that really interests you and that you are passionate about, but this may take several years so don’t be discouraged.
Also, don’t worry if your path takes some twist and turns. Sometimes this can be scary but if you are willing to be flexible it will work out. I never thought I’d end up working in the construction industry but my career took a different path and I’m enjoying the change!
What are some of your career highlights so far?
One of my career highlights so far was spending three months in Antarctica studying Weddell seals for my doctoral research.
Other include earning my PhD from the University of Canterbury as well as working for NCTIR and being part of the largest Environmental Team assembled for a construction project in New Zealand.
Why do you believe engaging in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) is important to New Zealand?
I think engaging in STEM will help New Zealand deal with and help solve complex issues that we are facing like climate change, impacts from agriculture, the move to clean energy, etc.
We also live in a world where we now have to deal more with ‘fake news’ and misinformation, so I think even if you aren’t pursuing a career in the STEM field, we should be educating ourselves to be able to make better, more informed decisions on these important issues.
Why is it important to have more women working in STEM?
I think it important to have more women in STEM, or in any industry for that matter, because if you don’t have diversity, those voices can go unheard and you end up missing out on new and interesting ideas.
Crystal is an Environmental Advisor at Downer NZ. She is currently working for the North Canterbury Transport and Infrastructure Alliance (NCTIR), reconnecting communities along SH1 after the November 2016 Kaikōura earthquake.
This profile is part of our series of girls and women in STEM.
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