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Sally Carson

Sally is Director of the New Zealand Marine Studies Centre, where school students and the wider community engage with real science and marine conservation.

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

I always tell everyone that I have the best job in the world and get to spend every day on the seashore! Well… not quite - but working at a marine research lab [in the Department of Marine Science, University of Otago], I certainly learn something new every day! The staff and our postgraduate students are very open to sharing their research and expertise –the conversations around the tea room table are never boring.

I love working with the wider community – their interest, excitement and appreciation of the work we do is often what drives me. I spend my days finding new ways to share my passion for the marine environment with others.

Recently I have been traveling up river catchments with our Aquavan, bringing marine species to inland schools and communities and creating awareness and understanding of the connectivity between river health and the coastal marine environment, in a dynamic and hands-on way.

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 went to a very small high school, so there was not the subject choice that is available now. At university I did a Bachelor of Science degree but loved the marine science courses that were offered. I learned to SCUBA dive and a whole new world opened up.

After graduation I got a summer job as a research assistant in the Caribbean – fossicking among reefs and SCUBA diving looking for brittle stars that divide in half. It was the trip in a submersible that sealed my fate – and my plans for a pharmacy degree went out the window.

Sally carrying out a Marine Meter Squared survey

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

I have never strayed far from the sea. My undergraduate degree was on the east coast of Canada and my postgraduate degree to me to the west coast of Canada.

From there I was lucky enough to to get a job in New Zealand! I did my masters on reproduction in sea stars. And although I was really interested in what I was studying, I did not want to spend my time just learning about one aspect of the marine environment. Environmental education allowed me to follow many interests.

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?

There are many options for career pathways, but you don’t need to figure it out all at once! Challenge yourself, look for opportunities and don’t be afraid to follow your interests. If you are passionate and work hard, you will find your way.

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

Building a marine science education programme from the ground up has been really rewarding and getting people to care about the marine environment has been important to me.

Like plankton, as individuals we may appear insignificant, but collectively we can make a real difference to the world. Involving people in Citizen Science has been exciting – people love to contribute to a real world problems. Local and traditional knowledge is valuable and has an important place in conservation management. Citizen science has provided a way to engage with these local experts and develop the science interests of young and old.

I also recently wrote the Collins Guide to the New Zealand Seashore. It was a huge effort on top of a full time job and a family, but I was pleased when it was finally done!

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?

Science is a way of understanding the world around us. Every day we ask questions, make observations, collect evidence and draw conclusions. Science is not only done by the experts. Many of us regard ourselves as writers or artists but the term scientist is not used as freely. I would love to see every child in NZ growing up believing that they could be a scientist.

We need to provide school students not only with science knowledge and understanding, but opportunities to develop and use their science skills in real world situations.

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

Girls need to have female role models in STEM professions. If they can identify with someone in a STEM career, who they imagine is like themselves in some way, they may be able to see themselves in a similar role.

Sally in front of her Aquavan

Sally Carson is the Director of the New Zealand Marine Studies Centre (Department of Marine Science, University of Otago) where school students and the wider community engage with real science and marine conservation.

She has been the driver behind a number of marine education initiatives and has recently developed Marine Metre Squared, a national citizen science project on long term monitoring of the NZ seashore.

Sally has also written numerous educational resources, including a series of identification guides to the plants and animals found on NZ’s seashore and is the main author of the 'Collins Field Guide to the New Zealand Seashore'.

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

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