Wananga landing Wananga landing
Student story

Clare Wilkinson

20 July 2023

"I fell in love with the landscape, the culture, and the people..."


PhD in Geology

Coming from Vermont, USA, Clare’s research investigates how changing landscapes ‘heal’ following natural disasters with a unique bicultural perspective.

“I have always had a love for awa, for playing in rivers and witnessing the ability they have to shape landscapes and support ecosystems. As I dug deeper and deeper into my research topic about landscape healing, I felt a deep need to include a human perspective on what it means for a landscape to heal—and who better to talk with than the mana whenua of this land, the people who know it best?”

Using both traditional earth science and oral histories from the local iwi – known as ‘He awa whiria’ or ‘braided rivers’ merging indigenous and western science – Clare has focused her research on sediment flow through river systems in Koukourārata Port Levy in Banks Peninsula, the earthquake-stricken coasts of Kaikōura, Te Tai Poutini West Coast of the South Island, and Heretaunga in Hawke’s Bay, to see how the landscape has changed physically and culturally after major natural events.

“Carving a space for myself in mixed-method bicultural research space has been the most rewarding aspect of my degree so far. Being in this space has allowed me to continue pursuing my love for river research and has broadened my understanding of how such investigations have meaning and implication beyond the academic geoscience community. 

“The conversations I have had with my research participants and supervisors Angus Macfarlane, Dan Hikuroa, and Matthew Hughes have given me an increased appreciation and respect for the world around me and have helped me realise what role I can play in the future of river research.”

Clare first experienced New Zealand through a final-year exchange in her undergraduate degree from Washington and Lee University, Virginia, and hoped to eventually return for more.

“I fell in love with the landscape, the culture, and the people. I knew, based on my interests and personality, that this place is where I would flourish as a researcher and as an individual, so I decided I would come back for postgraduate studies,” she says.

She was also able to gain some experiences unique to UC, such as tutoring undergraduate students on field trips to Castle Hill, Kowai Valley, and Kaikōura, and skiing in Arthur’s Pass through the Canterbury University Snow Sports Club (CUSSC).

Her passion and unique approach to science research has been recognised with a number of scholarship grants through UC, QuakeCoRE, Rivers Group of Engineering New Zealand, and the Australian Institute of Nuclear Science Education. She hopes to continue to support Māori interests and research needs through future research work in New Zealand after completing her PhD.

Clare advises future scientists to look for their own ways to bring their individual strengths to traditional areas of science.

“Challenge convention. We live in an incredibly dynamic world, and the scientific community is starting to embrace new ways of conducting research more and more. If you have an idea, build yourself a supportive team, and you’ll be amazed with what you can accomplish.

“I feel incredibly fortunate to have five wonderful participants for my research who always have interesting perspectives to share with me. Studying at UC has granted me opportunities to expand my own way of thinking and has given me the tools to do so.”

More student stories
Privacy Preferences

By clicking "Accept All Cookies", you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyse site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts.