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Leigh Matheson

Leigh is a senior meteorologist with New Zealand Metservice and an adjunct lecturer on the Masters of Meteorology programme at Victoria University of Wellington.

Leigh Matheson with computers displaying weather mapsWhat do you do on an average work day? He aha tō mahi ia rā, ia rā?

My average work day - on the Severe Weather Desk - involves assessing the current and forecast weather conditions and determining the potential for adverse impacts to the public, marine or aviation sectors over the next 48 hours.

If appropriate, the Severe Weather Desk may issue a warning, or give advice to other meteorologists. We also monitor the weather about the Homer Tunnel, providing detailed rain and snow forecasts to help with safety on the Milford Road.

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?

At school I focused on science, maths and English.  Science and maths were always my strongest subjects, while English was weaker.  At the time, if left to me, I would have dropped English -  but as a meteorologist, written communication has been a big part of my job, so now I appreciate the value of continuing with English.

When I entered university, I was initially taking subjects to fulfil the requirements for an engineering intermediate but, after a short course on meteorology (in applied mathematics), I decided that meteorology was where I wanted to focus my study.

From there, I continued my BSc with maths, physics and geophysics – my Bachelor of Science majors in mathematics.  In the final year of my degree, I applied for the post-graduate meteorology programme through MetService and was admitted to the course in 1996.

Leigh tramping

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

My study is relevant to my work every day.

The Masters of Meteorology is a collaboration between Victoria University and MetService with the goal of training meteorologists for the forecast room. In a way, it is like a professional cadetship, where all aspects of the programme are tailored to prepare people to work as an Operational Meteorologist.

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?

Choose your passion. Sometimes it may require you to do less ‘cool’ subjects like mathematics, but if you are passionate about your future subject, the time will pass quickly and you will not regret it.

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

I love being able to pass on my years of experience working as a meteorologist to others. Both within the framework of the Master’s programme, and also to local bodies throughout New Zealand, and with colleagues in the South Pacific.

Leigh and her colleague in front of a helicopter in winter

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?

STEM subjects are the foundation of our understanding of the natural world and they drive the practical implementation of innovation. For New Zealand to be a leader in innovation, and to have a constructive voice with global issues such as climate change, we need people in the STEM fields.

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

Diversity in all sectors of workforce is a good thing and should be proactively fostered and encouraged, regardless of gender.

When I started as a meteorologist the forecast room was predominantly male, and often it was just ‘me and the boys’.  However, now, forecast room is much more diverse, due to greater numbers of women coming through the physics and mathematics fields; this is a welcome change and representative of our more integrated society.

Leigh on the beach with her two young children

Leigh is a senior meteorologist with the New Zealand Metservice and an adjunct lecturer on the Victoria University Masters of Meteorology programme, which is a collaboration between Metservice and the University.

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

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