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Student story

Dona Banerjee

31 August 2023

"I am grateful for the holistic view I’ve gained..."

Studying towards a Bachelor of Science in Geology and Physics
Teaching Assistant, UC

What led you to studying a Bachelor of Science, coming from Singapore?

My Science journey began when I started hanging out in a maker community where everyone loved DIY. Many were trained engineers. Without a Science or Engineering background, I did not have much confidence with DIY work. They were always kind, though, and never looked down on me. Instead, they just showed me ways to pick up skills I lacked. I ended up taking part in community projects. I’ve helped weld an injection moulding machine together to recycle plastics, and created a small flame sustained via electrolysis to etch on wood. My friends were fantastic coders, too, and introduced Arduino to me. I started programming lights on Neopixel strips to change in funny patterns I designed. I even built my own Star Wars sword.

I realised I loved Science when I saw my friends use transistors in their circuit designs. They were so small yet so powerful. How did they work? I was so amazed I obsessed over this. My non-Science brain spent many many nights wrapping my head around electron flow in NPN junctions. By the end of it, I knew I had fallen in love with learning.

Climate change started becoming a hot topic. I felt that we weren’t listening to scientists enough. Why? If we understood the science better, would it make a difference? I decided it would. So, here I am, getting trained in the Sciences.

Geology and Physics is an interesting combination – what’s it like studying them?

I study and work with two schools in UC. Physics is part of the School of Physical and Chemical Sciences. Geology is part of the School of Earth and Environment. It can feel like a juxtaposition of sorts. For me, the first focuses on quantitative work and abstract thinking, while the second values qualitative work and Kaitiakitanga – guardianship and protection of our natural environment. I value them both equally and am grateful for the holistic view I’ve gained. The double majors are starting to seam together too thankfully.

My Physics journey has pushed me to visualise invisible interactions around me by making use of abstract concepts. Math and illustration become great languages to communicate such ideas. As a first-year lab demonstrator, I encourage Physics and Engineering newbies to get hands-on and play with a variety of lab equipment so that they can validate some of the basic Physics theories they get introduced to, for themselves. I also help out a lot with Physics outreach and recently got to go to the Hororata Glow Festival for it.

And Geology?

The best thing in Geology, hands down, are the multi-day field trips. It’s hard work both physically and mentally. You develop your qualitative observational skills and have a new appreciation for nature. You’re exhausted by the end but can see the same place differently, as if a movie is being played right before you of what has transpired, gradually or violently, to create that beautiful scenery you may have taken for granted. Everyone is so encouraging to one another. The laughs put you in a great mood, too.

I’ve also been a research assistant over the holidays for a couple of years and got to go to the GSNZ conference last year to present a poster. It was eye opening. There is so much one can do in the Earth Sciences.

It must be great doing so many practical courses and fieldtrips at UC.

It is probably the best place to study Geology and Physics. You can head out to field stations in the Southern Alps (Cass), West Coast, and coastal Kaikōura on your Geology field trips. Astronomy students get to head out to Mt. John observatory in Tekapo. Christchurch is also one of five gateway cities to Antarctica. It is wild.

And what about UC itself is your favourite thing?

The people. When you still have a ways to go, the laughs and support you feel at the worst of times make all the hard work worthwhile.

I’m co-founder and current president of PhysSoc – the Physics and Astronomy club. We are creating a wonderful community and bu around Physics by running pia nights, astronomy nights, careers evenings, study sessions, and having competitions using liquid nitrogen (think ice cream and mini rockets). I’ve helped out as a WITSoc (Women in Tech Society) mentor for a workshop/hackathon aimed at getting young girls (years 9 to 11) comfortable with coding. I am also a member of RockSoc because I love the Geology field trips so much!

Since you’re involved in so many projects all about teaching and inspiring others, what’s your biggest piece of advice for someone thinking about studying science?

Aww, thank you. Well, we are all going to have different starting points. It can get overwhelming as you are introduced to a new standard of learning with no good coping mechanism initially. That is okay. You’ll learn. What matters now is grit. Visualise where you want to be a few years from now. Spend a minute every day remembering that and push on. Remember to have a few laughs along the way too. Good endorphins!

What about you – what’s your big dream?

I hope to be a geophysicist in the near future. I’ve narrowed the focus areas to earthquakes, glaciology, sea-level rise, floods, and geothermal energy. I clearly have to narrow it down just a little bit more.

In the long run, I hope to go on a journey in a seaQuest DSV-esque submarine to explore the deep ocean with a team of cool people! Maybe be a submarine pilot. My dreams are pretty big. What’s the worst that can happen, though. It comes true?

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