Raising the profile of women in science
When you think of a scientist, what do they look like?
When you think of a scientist, what do they look like?
Your mental picture of a scientist is shaped by your life experiences, but also, social influences.
At the EPA, many of our scientific and technical roles are filled by women and gender minorities.
We are proud to have a diverse workforce – it enriches the way we think, make decisions, and take action – which improves how we protect our unique environment and communities.
Today is an apt time to shift the assumptions of what a scientist looks like, and what they do (it’s more than lab coats and test tubes) – #InternationalDayofWomenandGirlsinScience.
Below we profile a group of women working in scientific and technical roles at the EPA–some have been here for 10+ years.
They share parts of their journey, the work that they do, and advice for women and gender minorities considering a career in science.
Kia ora tātou, ko Janine Sharma tōku ingoa.
Having come from an athletic background, my scientific journey started in high school where I wanted to understand how the human body works, its biological processes, and how it changes in certain situations (such as stress, sports, or medicine).
I completed a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry, minoring in Pharmacology, and a Master of Science in Cell and Molecular Biology. I was, and continue to be, excited by the endless possibilities of knowledge in science. Being able to question and learn about ‘how’ a scientific process works, or ‘why’ a medicine or reaction can cause a certain response.
Before working here, I worked at Medsafe – I was involved in approving medicines in New Zealand. I enjoy knowing that in some small way I am helping make a difference, whether it be for people or for the environment, or contributing to a better future.”
Science is constantly evolving and improving, and so are you! Test your boundaries and don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you make a mistake, that’s okay, as you’ve gained knowledge to help you or others in the future.
I’ve always had an interest in the natural environment. I spent five years at the University of Otago studying physical geography and GIS, with a focus on coastal geomorphology. I graduated in 2017 with a Master of Science in Environmental Management.
I enjoy the field of physical geography because it provides an understanding of the processes driving what we see in the natural environment. My role involves using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to analyse and visualise location-based information.
GIS is an exciting field, and great if you enjoy problem solving. It enables an understanding of patterns, trends and awareness of the world around us. Working as a spatial analyst is rewarding, especially when someone is using a map you’ve produced or a result from your analysis to help inform their decisions. I think it’s the perfect combination of science and art.
I’d encourage young women to research the range of science-related fields available - especially if you’re naturally inquisitive and interested in understanding the ‘why’ of the world.
At high school, my favourite subjects were Chemistry and English literature. At the time, I thought I had to choose just one path to follow, and decided the scientific route was probably more practical. My career started the day I quit my PhD in Chemistry to pursue my interest in science communication and writing.
I coordinate our community science programme, Wai Tuwhera o te Taiao.
The programme helps community groups, iwi, hapū and schools monitor and explore their local waterways. Participating groups use an environmental DNA (eDNA) testing kit to discover what species and organisms inhabit their local awa, wetland or coastal area.
An exciting part of supporting these groups is to find out how their results fit into their own stories and contexts, and to encourage the sharing of those stories. I also write articles about science topics related to our work at the EPA.
In my spare time, I write poetry about my scruffy garden and I’m currently building my tiny house.
Don’t let the perceived boundaries between science, arts and other ways of knowing prevent you from exploring your interests. From biological illustrations to the stanzas of 20th-century poems, to waiata and folklore – science, knowledge of the natural world, and the arts have been in conversation forever. Following your passions and values can only make these conversations richer.
I’m a trained molecular geneticist and have worked as a research scientist in NZ and the US for half of my working career – and for the other half, as a regulatory advisor at the New Zealand EPA.
From a young age, I was fascinated by the science experiments of my older siblings and followed that interest in the sciences in Malaysia. I came to New Zealand to study engineering but could not give up biology, so I chose to do a science degree.
During my university vacations, I got involved in research projects with various lecturers at the department. I continued in research and sciences as I enjoyed learning, challenges, field and laboratory work, and the wide variety of research topics.
My advice is to keep pursuing your interests in science, not to be afraid of challenges, failures, and trying out new things – expand your horizon and hone other transferable skills such as business writing and communications.
Almost 40 years ago, I started my career in science working as a lab technician in the Environmental Chemistry Lab at DSIR/ESR. The work was very hands on (or hands in!) chemicals – it was fun, varied, and challenging with lots of scope to work in different areas.
My role at the EPA is quite different from the lab, but equally challenging and rewarding. Working in a regulatory environment gives me the opportunity to apply the knowledge and skills I’ve learnt over the years to help protect the NZ environment and the people in it.
A science background can open many doors for you – there are many career choices available. So, whether you’re interested in protecting the environment, working with animals, scientific research – just find something you’re passionate about and go for it!
Whatever area you choose, you'll be working alongside like-minded people who share the same enthusiasm for their work and who will inspire and support you throughout your career.
I’ve always loved exploring and investigating – so science was a natural fit for me.
My favourite subject at school was chemistry. I found it fascinating (and still do) how the fundamentals of atoms, molecules, their bonds and interactions form everything we know of life.”
I first worked for CRI Environmental Science and Research in their dioxin laboratory, after completing my honours in chemistry. We did ultratrace analysis for organic contaminants in everything from air to whale blubber.
After a stint overseas, I was keen for a change from lab work, so I joined the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA), which is now the EPA.
In my first role I got to transfer all the chemicals in New Zealand over into the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act. It was fun being at the forefront of chemical legislation worldwide, with New Zealand being one of the first countries to implement the new GHS classification system (used to classify and communicate the hazards of products) - and we've just updated to a newer version of this.
Right now, I’m working on the hazardous substance database, IUCLID. Data is key to everything we do in the Hazardous Substances team – I facilitate good data collection and recording so that we can use that data to do risk assessments and a whole lot more.
Do lots of research about the areas of science you could get in to – there are so many options to choose from. Think about what would suit you. For instance, research is a long game and if you’re someone who likes quick results you may get frustrated. Once you’ve found an area of interest try and find someone who can mentor you. The great thing about science is, it’s a team pursuit, and thrives on collaboration.”