School of Biological Sciences


Meet our graduates


Find out about the interesting range of jobs School of Biological Sciences graduates are doing.

Andrew Bell-400px

Andrew Bell, Manager Border and Biosecurity Systems, Biosecurity, Food and Animal Welfare Policy, Ministry for Primary Industries. BSc in Zoology, MSc in Biological Sciences, PhD (all Auckland)

My division works to create policies to ensure the biosecurity system is effective and that everyone is able to work together in a coordinated way.  On a day-to-day basis, our number-one priority is ensuring we are effectively communicating with the Minister.  This might involve providing advice on issues of the day or providing speech notes.

One area I have worked on over many years has been addressing the biosecurity risks associated with ships’ ballast water and biofouling.  Lately, I have been working on implementation issues associated with the Ballast Water Management Convention at the International Maritime Organization. To come into force, the Convention requires countries to ratify and many will not until they are certain it will be appropriately implemented.  Consequently, New Zealand is working to find a position at the IMO where biosecurity outcomes are achieved and nations agree with the final position.   

What I most enjoy about my job is making sure nothing happens!  When the biosecurity system is working well, then New Zealand biosecurity is not compromised. However, it can be hard to define the value of biosecurity.  It’s easy to identify the costs of a biosecurity failure, but difficult to show the benefits of success.   

New Zealand needs to be able to trade with other nations, which requires us to accept their goods on the same basis that they accept ours.  Any trade carries some biosecurity risk; in some cases the risk is extremely low or it’s possible to adequately manage it.  However, the science upon which risk decisions are made can be limited or controversial, so we rely upon other parts of the biosecurity system to limit the potential for pests and diseases to establish themselves in New Zealand. The question is this:  If we make a decision that allows trade, are we certain that our systems can deal with the uncertain or unknown risks?

I think the keys to success in this sort of role include determination, stamina, flexibility – including being able to move between big-picture and detail-focused thinking – open-mindedness, a questioning nature, and the ability to work effectively in teams. That’s about drawing on others’ expertise, skills or support as well as driving your own pieces of work to get the job done well.

 

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Kate Lomas, Postdoctoral Fellow, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Australia. BSc, MSc (First-Class Hons) and PhD (all Auckland)

Lately I have been working in brain health. One of the things I have been doing is developing ways to identify and image novel imaging agents that have been developed in-house at CSIRO.

For example, one of the compounds has shown excellent promise as an imaging agent for Alzheimer’s disease, as it sticks to particular deposits, called plaques, found in the brain of Alzheimer’s patients. It has also shown some promising results in inhibiting the clumping of these deposits.

One of the imaging techniques we have been using to image the effects of the compound is a technique called CLARITY, developed by a team at Stanford University in California. It involves removing brain lipid that would normally block light, thus making the brain see-through in imaging terms. We can then fluorescently label neurons and other structures of interest, such as plaques. This technique allows us to image large sections of the brain rather than just a thin slice.

What I most enjoy about my job is that every day is different. I get to work with the most amazing team of people who really want to make a difference. One of the challenges is experiments that don’t work. And science isn’t a secure profession.

I went back to undergraduate study as a single mother, and the University of Auckland gave me the support and tools to get through a difficult time. Once there I stayed for all of my study because of the support and encouragement I received from the staff and, later, my supervisor, Stuart Parsons.
 

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Andrea Dekrout, Project Manager, CARE International, Papua New Guinea. BSc and MSc in Biology (Waikato), PhD in Biological Sciences (Auckland)

Atoll communities depend on subsistence agriculture and rainwater, but they are chronically food- and water-insecure as a result of climate change. The project I manage aims to help vulnerable communities on the low-lying atoll of Nissan improve their soil and water management as well as their community disaster planning to strengthen their resilience to climate change.

I am based on the Bougainville mainland; I go out to the atoll, which is a four-hour boat ride over open sea, about once a month for a week; crossing in poor weather is always a trial. My job is to plan and organise and, with my staff and partner organisations, deliver the training and direct intervention, such as supplying rainwater tanks and guttering. I manage all the day-to-day stuff like finances, reporting and logistics.

Working on remote atolls is logistically tricky. Communication is limited, and keeping myself and my staff safe requires constant, careful management. Making sure everyone on the island is informed and included in the project activities is a huge effort.

I really like doing direct interventions. Last year I was able to install 30 rainwater tanks, each of 9000 litres, and rainwater capture structures to a community of 1200 people that had absolutely no clean water supply. They depended on coconut water for drinking and polluted brackish wells for washing and cooking. The tank project changed their lives.

In the photo, I’m with a Bougainville friend, Julie; last October I helped her, her father and their community put in an application for a United Nations Global Environment Facility Small Grant. They received a grant of $171,000 for conservation and sustainability activities in their remote village.

I did my PhD on urban bats. Some consulting work followed, then, with Volunteer Service Abroad, I went to Bougainville to help develop an environmental management agency. From there I moved to Botswana and took up a role to study the behaviour and ecology of cheetahs with a small non-governmental organisation.

I love experimentation and enquiry. I think science and research is incredibly creative and fits well with my interest in exploration and, maybe, a tendency to take a few calculated risks now and again. I don't mind being wrong and trying new things if my first approach doesn't work.

I think I also bring this approach to my development work. I encourage communities to get involved in their own civilian science to get information about their environment and then use it to improve their livelihoods.
 

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Sue Turner, Principal Scientist, BioDiscovery NZ Ltd; BSc in Microbiology (Massey); PhD in Biological Sciences (Auckland)

BioDiscovery NZ Ltd identifies and develops microbes for improving crop productivity. In the same way that biomedicine is focusing on changing the human microbiome for better health, the company is changing the microbiome of plants – the microorganisms around the plant – to improve stress tolerance, environmental resilience, nutrient use efficiency and overall yield.

We have developed a high-throughput proprietary process that enables us to rapidly identify teams of microbes for any crop trait or situation. At the moment we are developing products for all of the major row crops, including maize, wheat and soybean as well as pasture, rice, and horticultural crops such as tomato, pepper and lettuce.  

BioDiscovery NZ Ltd is a subsidiary of BioConsortia Inc, a new US-based company that was established to further develop and commercialise the microbial consortia developed through the New Zealand technology platform. Both companies are funded by US-based investment. I’m currently based in New Zealand, but am heavily involved in the establishment of the new R&D base for BioConsortia Inc, in Davis, California. 

My everyday tasks are highly varied and range from collecting soil samples and performing analyses through to presenting and discussing technology. Last week, I was in a corn field in the mid-west USA setting up field trials.

I love working in the field of agriculture and I’m sure that stems from my upbringing on a small dairy-beef farm in Kairanga, in the Manawatu. I like the idea that I can contribute to improving agriculture even if I’m not actually working on the farm.

One of the difficult aspects of this job is legislation – New Zealand’s Hazardous Substances and New Organisms legislation in particular. We work with naturally-occurring microbes that are found in New Zealand, but as up to 50% are not formally recognised as being present in New Zealand, we can’t use them outside the lab.  Much of our advanced research has to be completed off-shore. 

I would make three points about what personal and academic attributes it takes to succeed in this sort of field. First, you have to be passionate about what you do. It’s hard work and takes a long time to get to a position like the one I have now.

The second is that the most important thing you can do to prepare yourself is to learn how to learn, because in science there’s never a point when you’ve learnt everything you need to know. But if you’ve developed the confidence that you can teach yourself anything, you can tackle any problem.  

Third, don’t expect that you have to be great at everything. Despite the fact that scientists are often depicted as lone and often detached figures of brilliance, modern-day science is actually about team work.

 

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Sujit Kalidas, Investment analyst, BioPacific Ventures. Bachelor of Technology in Biotechnology (First-Class Honours), Postgraduate Diploma in Bioscience Enterprise (Distinction), Master of Bioscience Enterprise (First-Class Honours)

My day-to-day work revolves around the companies in which we have invested. This ranges from compiling financial projections and identifying and evaluating potential strategic partners through to providing recommendations on strategic initiatives.

Here’s an example of a recent project. One of our portfolio companies, Horizon Science, is commercialising extracts from sugar cane that are clinically proven to significantly reduce blood glucose and insulin response without side-effects. The company has several options in terms of the types of people for whom it could develop related products (diabetics, pre-diabetics, metabolic syndrome sufferers and consumers conscious of these conditions) and what form these products would take (a dietary supplement, a functional food/beverage, a food ingredient, a medical food and/or an over-the-counter drug).

I created a report that recommended on which types of consumers and product forms the company should focus. My analysis considered quantitative factors ranging from market size, development time and cost, through to more qualitative factors such as regulatory requirements, how the product would differ from competing products, as well as the purchasing-decision process consumers undergo.

For this sort of work, it’s necessary to have a diverse skill set and to think about things from multiple angles and perspectives. You need an understanding of everything from legal contracts, capital markets and the markets in which products are being sold, right through to what’s happening in the wider economy and in other companies. Then you have to piece all of this together to find out the net effect.

The opportunity to play an active role in fulfilling the potential of these sorts of companies is one of the things I most enjoy about my job. While scientific discoveries and inventions have the potential to change the world, this potential can only be fulfilled when they are combined with capital and commercial acumen.

Don McKenzie with Peter Nelson Memorial Trophy-300px

Don McKenzie, Biosecurity Senior Programme Manager for Northland Regional Council, Whāngārei. Postgraduate Diploma in Science in Biosecurity and Conservation with Distinction

When I left school I was certain about two things – that I didn’t wish to have another year at school and that I liked the outdoors. I became a cadet in the New Zealand Forest Service, as it was then, and a year later had changed my mind about school, so spent the next few years at the University of Canterbury studying forestry. 

I then worked for the New Zealand Forest Service in indigenous forestry, including kauri forests. I spent more than 20 years with the Department of Conservation in pest management and species protection, and have been biosecurity team leader at Northland Regional Council for the last seven years.

I decided to do the Postgraduate Diploma in Science in Biosecurity and Conservation because it was a new challenge and would provide new networks to assist my role.  I rate the course and the management behind the curriculum as the best in New Zealand. The course directors understand the biosecurity industry and provide a flexible structure so that the diploma can be spread over time. This was important as I could study only part-time – I work full-time and have a family.

The papers have direct relevance to biosecurity and biodiversity work and have given me a much better understanding of the science behind these two themes.  For example, I learned about the concept of delimitation surveys and how these are used to determine the extent of a pest infestation, and I use this approach often in my work.

In this picture, I am holding the Peter Nelson Memorial Trophy, awarded by the New Zealand Biosecurity Institute to Northland Regional Council in 2013 for achievement in vertebrate pest management. It was in recognition of the work staff had done to train others in the field of pest management.

See Don McKenzie talking about the fight against fan worm, an introduced pest, here.

 

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Eru Nathan, Consultant to Northland Regional Council, BSc in Biology; Postgraduate Diploma of Science in Biosecurity and Conservation; MSc in Biosecurity and Conservation

I am a consultant to Northland Regional Council (NRC), employed through UniServices, the commercial arm of the University of Auckland. My main role is to write a report which assists the NRC to plan for pest and weed management at the Kai Iwi Lakes, an ecologically significant site in Northland where it is keen to tackle some long-standing pest and weed issues.

So my day-to-day tasks are reviewing other sites and groups that have tackled similar problems in the past and synthesising that information into a report. I am also reading planning documentation and providing feedback to the NRC biosecurity team in relation to it.

I really enjoy reading and learning new things, so this role is ideal – I get to delve deeper into a whole range of specific pest and weed management issues, many of which are new to me or about which I previously knew relatively little. I am quite details-oriented and I think this helps in that it enables me to read in depth, ferret out the most important details and reach sound conclusions.

My Māori heritage may have helped instil an appreciation of the value of maintaining and protecting the land. I can say that I am proud to be contributing to work which will provide direct and tangible benefits to our native flora and fauna and help restore our land to a more natural state.

 

Stephanie Marshall

Stephanie Marshall, Associate Product Manager, Fisher & Paykel Healthcare

I earned my Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences and Master of Bioscience Enterprise (First Class Honours) at the University of Auckland. I have always enjoyed science and through the masters, I discovered a keen interest in the biotech and pharmaceutical industries. The commercial application of science is fascinating to me.

I am now at Fisher & Paykel Healthcare, working as an Associate Product Manager for the surgical humidification device HumiGardTM. This is a novel technology heats and humidifies CO2 gas in surgery to improve patient outcomes, with applications in both open surgery and laparoscopy.

My everyday tasks involve liaising with sales offices, organising clinical and promotional events, and managing and creating marketing collateral and material to support our product and sales staff. For example, I'm currently involved in organising a nursing forum where nurses from overseas visit to develop a greater awareness of our company and our therapy. It’s also an opportunity to liaise directly with customers and obtain their feedback.

I enjoy the collaborative environment that I work in. I have a great team, and I love being involved with establishing a brand and therapy awareness.

I chose to study at the University of Auckland because it is prestigious university and has fantastic departments for science and business. Lecturers are conducting cutting-edge research there and so there is great opportunity to learn from those at the top of their field. I also found there was a wealth of resources readily available to me to facilitate my studies, and staff and students were all very supportive. The student lifestyle is a lot of fun too, and through my time at university, I have made some great friends.