Georgia has a passion for climate science and is currently working as a sedimentologist at GNS, where she focusses on coastal processes.
What do you do on an average work day? He aha tō mahi ia rā, ia rā?
It varies week to week, depending on what projects I’m working on. In the last week, I have been in the lab with a summer student preparing samples and analysing them using X-ray Fluorescence to determine the chemical composition. This is part of a project trying to understand the recent historical changes of the Hokianga Harbour in response to human influence on the landscape to determine what the system looked like when it was ‘healthy’.
I have been organising future sampling for sea surface temperature reconstruction three million years ago across the Tasman Sea to figure out whether the pattern of temperature across that region is similar to today. This is for a funding grant I received last year from the Australian New Zealand International Ocean Drilling Program Consortium Legacy Funding.
I’ve been preparing a workshop with colleagues to explore how past climate research can be more ready-to-use for modern climate scientists.
I’ve also been writing up past work for publication and working on a proposal for future funding! And when I’m lucky, I get to take part in outreach programmes or get out into the field.
What did you study at school? And after high school? I ako koe i te aha i te kura? I aha koe whai muri i te kura tuarua?
I initially wanted to pursue a career in Architecture because I really enjoyed art, graphics and physics. But after my first year at university, I found I wasn’t very good at it! And I was missing more physical sciences and working with the environment. I switched to Geology after being advised to read the final courses in a range of environmental studies and I couldn’t believe that I’d end up knowing all of Earth’s history!
Studying became a hobby for me after I started Geology, everything I learnt fascinated me and made me want to learn more. So, I stayed for my Masters, took two years off to work and then returned to do my PhD, both of which focused on the cycles of climate in Antarctica and sea-level.
Was your study directly related to what you do now? He ōrite tāu mahi i taua wā ki tāu mahi o ināianei?
Yes – my tertiary education was completely. I looked at other work after my studies for Regional Councils or private environment companies, but continuing research in how our current climate is changing and using the past to investigate that is my dream job. I’m still working on research I did during my PhD, and that will always be an area of interest, but I’ve been getting involved in a whole bunch of different projects and I’m learning new skills every day. I’m interested in all things climate so where that might take me, who knows!
What would you like to share with young women who are thinking about their career choices right now? He aha āu kupu hei āwhina i ngā rangatahi wahine e whakaaro ana ki tā rātou mahi mō te wā kei mua i te aroaro?
Its ten times easier to turn up every day when it’s something your passionate about. There are so many different ways to contribute to society and they are all incredibly important to humanity’s success.
Don’t be afraid to change directions, every day is an opportunity to learn something new. I never thought I would have a doctorate or be a climate science researcher. I was a pretty average student in high school and in my undergraduate degree, but once I got into studying climate no one was going to tell me I wasn’t good enough.
However, it’s equally important to acknowledge the things you’re not so good at, I’m not a perfectionist and I’m not good at the finishing details, so I make sure I work with people that are! It’s taken a long time for me to value my soft skills as well, for so long I was labelled as chatty, loud, opinionated, a little bit pushy… the list goes on! But now I see that as enthusiasm, the ability to make others feel comfortable, being unafraid to share my thoughts and be wrong, being creative and looking outside the box. There is only one you in this world and you have something completely uniquely you to add to the table.
What are some of your career highlights so far? He aha ngā painga o te umanga e whāia ana e koe?
Going to Antarctica! I was invited as field support for the Hot Water Drilling Program on the Ross Ice Shelf. It was obviously an incredible opportunity, there’s nothing like it and I’ll always be working toward going back.
I’ve been lucky enough to attend several overseas conferences in Italy, Scotland, Australia and America, which were lots of hard work but massive rewards - being amongst top scientists and keeping up with all the new science going on, along with seeing some spectacular parts of the world. I also spent a month at Stanford University doing some lab work, which was quite special and a highlight for my family!
I recently received the Royal Society Te Apārangi Hatherton Award for best PhD publication and that was pretty amazing. It has given me the confidence that I’m on the right path and I’m good at what I do, but it was also super inspirational to meet the other awardees and see the range of spectacular science going on in New Zealand.
And I’ve really enjoyed meeting and working with some amazing people, there’s a lot to navigate in the world of academia, and having good friends and mentors to lean on is really important – it also means you have places to stay all over the world!
Why do you believe engaging in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) – whether it’s working in the field, studying it or just educating one’s self around the issues – is important to New Zealand? He aha a STEM (pūtaiao, hangarau, pūkaha, pāngarau) e whai take ana ki Aotearoa?
I think everyone is a scientist! From the moment we’re born, we’re observing, comparing, testing, making a hypothesis and drawing conclusions. But there is only so much we can observe ourselves, the accumulation and sharing of what we have learnt is what allows us as a species to move forward. From Aristotle to Einstein, Cook and Māui, there is a wealth of knowledge kept in books or whakatauki (proverbs) and pūrākau (myths and legends), and the learnings from these explorers, philosophers and scientists form important building blocks. It is our history.
But there is still so much to learn. There is no equation for discoveries or solutions, so much is pure luck that the right person with the right background, heard or saw something at the exact time that let them make a leap no one had made before. And it generally stems from facing a challenge that needs solving – so we need everyone to be involved in creating New Zealand’s future.
Why is it important to have more women working in STEM? He aha te take me whai wāhi ngā wāhine ki STEM?
While I’m of the mind that man and woman are equal, that doesn’t mean we are the same. Women have different experiences and perspectives in the same way that people from different walks of life can contribute to a discussion. It’s almost impossible to think from someone else’s perspective unless you’ve lived it, observed it and experienced those challenges. I can’t say it enough, it is essential we have everyone’s voices at the table. It’s as simple as that.
Georgia is a sedimentologist focusing on coastal processes at GNS. She recently won the Hatherton Award - the best scientific paper by a PhD student at any New Zealand university studying physical sciences, earth sciences or mathematical and information sciences- for her research paper ‘The amplitude and origin of sea-level variability during the Pliocene epoch’.
This profile is part of our series of girls and women in STEM.
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