"My degree gave me the ability to plan and design a long-term experiment."
‘I have always had a passion for the ocean. I enjoy diving, kayaking and surfing, and have always been interested in nature,’ says Leigh, as he explains what drew him to a career in marine ecology. Following his honours degree in Zoology, Leigh opted to stay at UC to specialise further through his PhD research. ‘UC has one of the best marine ecology groups in the country,’ he says.
Leigh’s research at UC aimed to develop the current understanding of primary production (the production of organic compounds from carbon dioxide) of marine ecosystems, and of large kelp beds in particular. In practice, it meant he was often working outdoors in the coastal environment he loves. ‘During an average week I was doing field work at one of my sites in either Kaikoura or Moeraki, where I monitored primary productivity of kelp and collected samples for my laboratory work.’
‘The most enjoyable part of my PhD was working at UC’s many field stations. My field of work allows me to spend a lot of time outdoors in some fantastic places. It has allowed me to travel around New Zealand as well as North America.’ Leigh adds that his PhD was an amazing experience. ‘Those four years were challenging and tonnes of fun.’
Having completed his PhD, Leigh was offered a postdoctoral fellowship at Oregon State University in the USA, where he is building on his expertise with research on the effects of increasing levels of ocean acidification (caused by carbon dioxide) on marine algae.
‘This is an important global issue, yet we know very little about how ocean acidification will affect marine ecosystems,’ he says, adding, ‘I am particularly excited about contributing to a well-respected research group, headed by Professor Bruce Menge, at Oregon State University.’
Leigh says that his undergraduate degree also prepared him well for his current work. ‘My degree gave me the ability to plan and design a long-term experiment. You need to be able to think critically about potential pitfalls in experimental design.’
He recommends UC to anyone considering their study or research options in his field. ‘The greatest strength of the University of Canterbury for anyone studying Biological Sciences is probably the field stations which are located throughout the South Island. These facilities provide the opportunity to study ecosystems which would otherwise be difficult to get to. They are even used extensively by overseas researchers, and are highly sought-after. Anyone studying Ecology would benefit greatly from the resources that are available to UC students. So I would say that if you are passionate about the subject, do it!’