Julia researches what happens in coastal zones, from how waves and tides interact with mangroves to how the shapes of coastlines evolve.
What do you do on an average work day?
I would say there’s no such thing as an average work day!
During the university teaching semester, I spend a lot of time interacting with students - either lecturing or running labs.
Outside of the semester, I’m often conducting fieldwork-related activities, which might involve wading through mud to take measurements within a mangrove forest, driving round in a boat to measure currents, or diving to deploy instruments.
What did you study at school? And after high school?
In some ways I’m a bit of an odd case: for my A-levels at school (years 12 and 13), I chose maths, further maths, French and German - and no sciences!
After this, I did an undergraduate degree in mathematics. It was then that I became interested in fluid dynamics and found a masters degree program focussed in this area, although still in a maths department. There was a particular emphasis on geophysical fluid dynamics which suited me as I like to go outside.
However, as my research now often has quite interdisciplinary applications, I’ve found I’ve had to find time to catch up on basic aspects of the other sciences, such as biology!
Was your study directly related to what you do now?
Sometimes it is, but not always. But one key skill that I learnt during my studies was critical thinking. I try to use this every day!
What would you like to share with young women who are thinking about their career choices right now?
I would always advise people to explore the things they are fascinated by, rather than worrying about what others think, or about jobs and future earning potential.
What are some of your career highlights so far?
Most of my career highlights have involved carrying out fieldwork alongside some fantastic people! A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity be part of large research project in Vietnam. We spent around a month living on a riverboat in the Mekong Delta and working with local scientists.
We would take a small boat into the mangroves every day to deploy instruments and collect measurements. The overall aim of the project was to examine how the tides and waves interacted with the trunks and roots of the trees.
By learning something about these key processes, we can begin to understand how these unique regions evolve over time - and whether or not they may be resilient against sea level rise.
Why do you believe engaging in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) is important to New Zealand?
New Zealand - along with the rest of the world - is facing a variety of environmental and health challenges due to ever-increasing populations and urbanisation. Many of these problems will only be solved by technological and scientific advancements.
However, I think it’s also important to consider human factors, such as connections between values and attitudes towards science, to promote community uptake of new ideas and technologies.
Why is it important to have more women working in STEM?
I think the simplest answer to this question is that having more women in STEM increases the talent pool.
Women are about half of the population yet are vastly underrepresented in these fields, so we’re not utilising the full diverse range of skills available to us.
There’s also been quite a few studies recently that have provided estimates of the economic benefits of more women working in STEM - and the numbers run into billions of dollars!
Lastly, success stories from today will hopefully inspire future generations of school kids of both genders to get involved in STEM.
Julia is a senior lecturer in the coastal marine group in the Faculty of Science and Engineering at the University of Waikato in Hamilton. She works on understanding physical and biophysical processes in the coastal zone over a variety of spatial and time scales: from the smallest length- and shortest time scales associated with turbulent motions, to the much larger and longer scales over which the shapes of coastlines evolve. When not working, she likes to play outside. [Portrait photo: © Crista-Lee Photography]
This profile is part of our series of girls and women in STEM.
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