Li Yen Thor
Li Yen is a recent graduate who moved from Malaysia 4 years ago to complete her BSc in Environmental Science at VUW. She is currently working on agricultural emissions at NIWA.
Li Yen Thor
What do you do on an average work day? He aha tō mahi ia rā, ia rā?
My days are pretty full-on now as I am currently juggling three jobs. My day starts off at NIWA where I am looking at soil chamber data and in situ atmospheric carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide measurements from Lauder to better infer and estimate nitrous oxide fluxes. This involves most aspects of a typical research project from brainstorming with my team and reviewing journal articles to performing statistical analysis and coding, to producing and presenting scientific posters at conferences, to publishing a paper on our findings (the ultimate end goal!), which is all extremely exciting for a recent BSc graduate like myself!
On the side, I am also a part-time high school-level tutor and tutoring operations associate at Crimson Education. These roles are remote and flexible so I would usually juggle them around my day job at NIWA. This consists of attending online meetings, replying to emails and tutoring students in the evenings and weekends. Yes, you can tell the work never stops for me, but I am thoroughly enjoying my roles in science as well as education!
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 knew I wanted to study environmental science from an early age, so I ended up planning backwards. My parents and I decided that taking an international curriculum such as the Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) would be more fitting than the local curriculum since I wanted to study abroad to pursue environmental science. Therefore, I took CIE A-Level Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics at a local college. I then came to New Zealand to complete my Bachelor of Science at Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington, majoring in Environmental Science and Physical Geography, with a minor in Statistics.
Internship at GNS
Was your study directly related to what you do now? He ōrite tāu mahi i taua wā ki tāu mahi o ināianei?
Definitely! I was fortunate that it clicked with me since a young age that this was what I wanted to pursue. Especially since it was not a hot topic in Malaysia (at least at the time), it made me want to pursue it even more and I knew I had to study abroad. It was the goal since I was 12 to save the environment, thanks to Al Gore’s 'An Inconvenient Truth'. Even though my parents did not have enough to financially support me, they were very supportive of my dreams. I worked really hard to obtain several scholarships to be able to study at Victoria University and worked multiple tutoring jobs to support myself throughout my Bachelor’s. So it was definitely the plan all along and I am extremely grateful and humbled to be able to say that all those years of hard work and planning have paid off.
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?
If it’s something you are going to be working on for 40 hours a week for the rest of your life, it better excite you! Follow your passion and be prepared to work hard for it. It is also important to set goals and to motivate yourself. Do not let anybody tell you otherwise and do not let negative people around you influence your decisions on where you want to be in life.
It is also very important to be proactive. Your circumstances and opinions might change so explore all the options and opportunities that come your way and network with as many people as you can. As a young person new to any field, the best advice and insights come from talking to current people in the field. It may seem daunting to make the first move, but trust me it is one thing I was so glad I did because it opened me up to so many more opportunities, got rid of my uncertainties, and made me realise what fields interested me and what did not. Plus, most people are more than willing to help you out so don’t be afraid to reach out.
After getting a sense of what you want to pursue, work backwards and plan out what you need to do in order to get to that position and achieve your goals. That being said, it is also important to keep an open mind and listen to advice. You can always learn, grow more and become wiser. You never know what might come your way. For example, I always thought I was only interested in science but a part-time tutoring job ended up stemming into a side passion for education as well and I am so glad I get to do both now!
What are some of your career highlights so far? He aha ngā painga o te umanga e whāia ana e koe?
Launching the ozonesonde balloon.
Throughout my Bachelor’s degree, names of big institutes like GNS and NIWA always popped up. It felt as if you were steered to aim to work for these big Crown Research Institutes and it definitely was the case for me, especially as a foreigner. Therefore, getting to intern at GNS and NIWA was one of my career highlights. It felt like a big accomplishment while I was still studying towards my Bachelor’s. I learned so much from my supervisors and by getting to network with scientists in this field.
Another highlight was visiting NIWA’s atmospheric research station at Lauder for a week, where I got to launch the Ozonesonde (see picture above) I also presented my poster at the Meteorological Society Conference in 2020, and will later be presenting it at the Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Emissions Workshop and New Zealand Agricultural Climate Change Conference 2021, which was a big stepping stone in a career.
I am also very proud of the scholarships I have received as I have worked extremely hard to obtain them. I am particularly grateful to receive funding for two years to pursue a Master of Science with NIWA later on this year to continue working on nitrous oxide fluxes as part of the CarbonWatch project.
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?
In New Zealand, we are blessed with natural resources and clean air thanks to our unique geographical position. One could easily take these for granted. Therefore, it is important to understand how we can use these to our advantage, especially in a changing climate.
Since STEM is based on how the world and living beings work by proven theories, a solid foundation in STEM creates a base for making informed decisions, whether that is personally or globally. Educating and actively engaging with the public and the younger generations allows them to be knowledgeable enough to make informed decisions regarding their daily habits and potentially create a wider interest to make a difference globally. In a current changing environment, it is especially crucial to know how these changes can affect us and the entire planet in order to adapt and mitigate. Therefore, STEM research in New Zealand can be impactful nationally as well as globally to those who are less fortunate.
Why is it important to have more women working in STEM? He aha te take me whai wāhi ngā wāhine ki STEM?
I think it is vital to have equality in any scenario and not just working in STEM, for obvious reasons. Everyone should be given an equal chance and opportunity to pursue their ideal career, regardless of their gender, race, religion, sexual orientation etc. The only thing that should matter is your qualifications and skills related to that job and not your appearance.
Moreover, women have different perspectives and ways of approaching problems than men, which is healthy for any field especially in research!
Li Yen Thor is about to start a Master of Science, working with NIWA to continue their mahi on nitrous oxide fluxes as part of the CarbonWatch project.
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