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Karen Pratt

In Karen's early career she was in accounting, now she is involved in a community-led marine based project investigating reefs offshore South Taranaki.

What do you do on an average work day? He aha tō mahi ia rā, ia rā?

My days are extremely variable. I nearly always have an aspect of Project Reef Life to manage (for which I am one of the project leads). I follow and engage with matters that I think are important for our future – most recently the AI forum held in Auckland. During the day I try and take photographs, and more recently have begun writing a marine based book! I enjoy being involved in community matters e.g. providing community feedback for Taranaki 2050, being on a group involved with a local civic centre, forum opportunities with Wild for Taranaki and submitting in local government (district and regional council) consultation processes.

I enjoy cycling, walking along the local beaches, gardening or using iNaturalist to capture observations! I fairly regularly have a chat via messenger with my daughters in Auckland and New York. In the afternoons or evenings, I attend meetings or club nights (some examples: Institute of Directors, BPW Hawera, Camera Club, Geological Society, public talks).

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 studied accounting, economics, maths and English. After High School, I attended Massey University where I did a Bachelor of Business Studies majoring in accounting and finance. I then qualified as a Chartered Accountant whilst I worked for Audit New Zealand. After leaving Audit NZ I did a number of management accountant roles.

I have held a number of voluntary community roles throughout my life also. Whilst my daughters were studying music and singing, I learnt at the same time and sat exams in music (piano) and singing. The past five years my focus has been on educating myself on marine matters.

Was your study directly related to what you do now? He ōrite tāu mahi i taua wā ki tāu mahi o ināianei?

No, my study was not directly related – though skills developed have come in very useful. Funding, finance, the need for good audit trails and the soft skills of working alongside colleagues and clients - are aspects that impact on all sectors.

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?

Fuel your sense of curiosity and commit to lifelong learning. Widen your horizons by engaging with wide sectors of the community. Follow research both nationally and internationally. Consider joining memberships – I have joined the AI Forum, NZ Coastal Society and the Institute of Directors. Enjoy being innovative and be brave enough to challenge existing paradigms.

The value of a career can be monetary but there are numerous non-monetary rewards that provide career satisfaction and ultimately life satisfaction (having been a volunteer hospice biographer I can vouch for this). By far the most enjoyable career and one where I have learnt vast amounts has been the role of a mother.

What are some of your career highlights so far? He aha ngā painga o te umanga e whāia ana e koe?

A highlight has been learning about the marine environment - in particular my local marine environment - and learning about methods we could use to survey it. I have had a world of sponges, bryozoans, plankton, hydroids, fish, oceanography, bathymetry and geology opened up to me. I appreciate greatly that I now work with an incredibly dedicated and innovative project team, collaborate with scientists from around New Zealand, educate and inspire youth and community of all ages and engage on marine policy matters.

Highlights, such as formal recognition through winning environmental awards, invitations to do a TEDx talk and being a Curious Minds Ambassador, are just as important as my highlights when a person says “I used to fear the ocean, but after your presentation I have changed my mind” and the highlight when a classroom of young children gasp in delight when they watch one of the Project Reef Life videos.

I can’t resist letting you know about another, slightly unusual highlight - finding a new species of sponge on my local beach, which is now a holotype with NIWA!

Why do you believe engaging in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) is important to New Zealand? He aha a STEM (pūtaiao, hangarau, pūkaha, pāngarau) e whai take ana ki Aotearoa?

I believe STEM, that incorporates art also i.e. STEAM, is vitally important. Science enriches us, as it helps us understand our world and empowers us to communicate, engage and work on matters that impact on the health and wealth of people and the environment. How we communicate, engage and understand all sectors of the community is very important, and this is the role of many mediums - including art.

I greatly enjoy seeing the high school students we work with become confident and familiar with marine terminology, scientific methods, the technology we use and most importantly developing a questioning mind and wisdom for seeking the limitations of results. We have used art to inspire curiosity and educate – a large mural depicting the reef has been completed, and now in progress is the installation of metal shapes depicting local marine species and a scuba diver (the Project Reef is 23m deep) on high poles leading to the ocean.

Why is it important to have more women working in STEM? He aha te take me whai wāhi ngā wāhine ki STEM?

Purely on a personal stance - I have never thought of myself ‘being a woman working in a STEM field’ (rather I am a person who is ‘a member of a team’) but I appreciate that people respond and are inspired by others they can relate to, which can at times be linked to gender. I think diversity in a multitude of spectrums makes for stronger and more innovative outcomes – this should be the ultimate aim.

In Karen's early career she was in accounting, now she is involved in Project Reef Life - a community-led marine based project investigating reefs offshore South Taranaki funded through the Participatory Science Platform.  Watch a video about the project, featuring Karen.

Karen is also a Curious Minds Ambassador.

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

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