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Virginia Toy

Dr. Virginia Toy is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Geology at the University of Otago.

Virginia Toy. Photo by University of Otago.What do you do on an average work day?
A University lecturer has three major parts to their job: research, teaching, and service. What I do on a typical day depends very much on whether I have major teaching responsibilities at that time. If I do, I focus on teaching. If not, I'll be working on research or service. Under these headings, some of the stuff I get up to includes:

  • Teaching: Delivering lectures and working on practical exercises with my undergraduate students, preparing materials for these, managing our web-based teaching resources, writing and grading assessments.
    Supervision of my postgraduate students including reading their draft written work, advising them on scientific data collection and analysis, and helping them to develop as well-rounded participants in a science team by holding group research meetings.

  • Service: A whole range of things, e.g. sitting on university committees like the one that organises our 'Hands on Science' camp, or the Division of Sciences Outreach Committee, reviewing proposals for participation in scientific expeditions on International Ocean Discovery Program vessels, giving talks to groups outside the University such as Forest & Bird or peer reviewing articles for scientific journals.

  • Research: I might be sitting in front of an electron microscope gathering data, cutting up rocks to make into thin sections (microscope slides), walking through the South Westland bush mapping outcrops of the Alpine Fault, writing my own research papers, writing proposals for funding and administering these funds, co-ordinating the research activities of a big team of NZ and international scientists who are part of the Alpine Fault Drilling Project, or gathering with other scientists in my field in an exotic European city at a conference to share our latest results and discuss how to interpret them.

What did you study at school? And after high school?
I focused on science subjects (Physics, Chemistry, Maths) as options at school, but also took Latin and Photography. It was good to have done the sciences subjects before uni, but I could have got by without doing so as well - almost all these subjects offer a first year university paper designed for students who haven't taken sciences since Year 11.

Was your study directly related to what you do now?
At high school we don't tend to specialise like we do at university. I find students coming to university think of taking Physics or Biology because those are subjects they are familiar with from school. However, there are a huge number of other sciences that use aspects of each of those 'fundamental sciences', such as Geology, Botany, Marine course advising I spend a lot of time raising awareness of these other sciences

What would you like to share with young women who are thinking about their career choices right now?
Always choose to do something you enjoy. You should be excited to get up and go to work in the morning. On the day that you're not, it's time to retrain!

Virginia and friends

What are some of your career highlights so far?

I felt great when my first PhD Student was offered a job as a faculty member at a really great university in California. Award of research funds (e.g. Marsden Fund), achieving a good score in the Performance Based Research Fund (PBRF) assessment, and recognition with other awards (e.g. Otago University Research Award) always feels good. However, I get as much of a kick out of the personal emails I sometimes receive from younger woman scientists whom I have interacted with, thanking me for helping them to develop their full potential; out of having the opportunity to do fieldwork in beautiful and remote places, and out of travelling the world and seeing aspects of foreign life during my morning runs at 5am (which is commonly the only time you have spare when attending scientific meetings).

Why do you believe engaging in STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) – whether it’s working in the field, studying it or just educating one’s self around the issues – is important to New Zealand?
Kiwis are renowned internationally for being innovative in their approach. New Zealand doesn't have a lot of land, or natural resources to draw on to support its economy, but we do have the natural resource of our innovative good of global and national society and for the future Earth.

Why is it important to have more women working in STEM?
I don't think it is more important to just have more women per se. I think we should have more scientists with different approaches and strategies, as these diverse approaches are more likely to result in novel advances. That group of innovative scientists will naturally include women!

Dr. Virginia Toy is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Geology at the University of Otago

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