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Student story

Kristie-Lee Thomas

20 July 2023

Ngāti Mutunga o Wharekauri

"Your work will have real impact, informing decisions and action..."


(Ngāti Mutunga o Wharekauri)

Bachelor of Science in Geology and Geography, with an endorsement in Environmental Science

Master of Disaster Risk and Resilience

Master of Science in Disaster Risk and Resilience

Risk Specialist, GNS Science | Te Pū Ao

As someone passionate for both the environment and the communities within it, a career in Disaster Risk and Resilience gives Kristie-Lee a chance to 'make a difference' to the ways we understand and prepare for natural hazards.

"I want to help make sure our people, whānau, and communities are prepared and resilient to natural hazards and climate change," she says.

Working with GNS Science, the leading provider of geoscience research in Aotearoa New Zealand, Kristie-Lee's role as a Risk Specialist involves data analysis, modelling for risk management decision making, and stakeholder engagement.

She interacts with a variety of people through her work to plan for and reduce disaster risk, including communities, scientists, engineers, government, and media. Kristie-Lee also occasionally helps services such as Civil Defence Emergency Management (CDEM) prepare and inform communities about tsunamis, as her disaster speciality.

Kristie-Lee enjoys the range of field expertise her work requires, including earth sciences, engineering, social sciences, and local and indigenous knowledge from the community.

"This is the awesome thing about disaster risk and resilience research and work! You constantly learn new things and get to work with lots of passionate people to create innovative solutions and produce useful and usable resources for, and with, people."

Following the Christchurch earthquakes while she was in high school, Kristie-Lee discovered her passion for disasters and their effect on communities. With UC Undergraduate Entrance and Emerging Leaders scholarships recognising her potential, she enrolled at UC in a Science degree, and incorporated a range of subjects studying the natural world.

"I loved the way Geology and Geography told a story about everything around us – the whakapapa of the whenua. Passionate lecturers and technicians, awesome field trips, great labs, and a bunch of people interested in rocks created a whānau. I made some great friends through my degree," she says.

Going onto her master's degrees in Disaster Risk and Resilience allowed her to further focus on the impact of natural hazards on people when these manifest into disasters and the arena of disaster risk reduction which aims to prevent these impacts.

Her research thesis took her back to her homeland, Wharekauri Rēkohu / Chatham Islands which are particularly exposed to tsunami from all directions, and most frequently from South America where they are first in line to be impacted in Aotearoa. Using the oral histories of tangata whenua, and support from Chatham Islands Council, Environment Canterbury Regional Council, NIWA, GNS Science, and a Ngāi Tahu Research Centre Postgraduate Scholarship, Kristie-Lee investigated previous tsunami disasters on the islands and formed an impact scenario with stakeholders to inform actions that can reduce risk and help inform future tsunami response.

During study she also had the unique opportunity to travel with other Disaster Risk and Resilience students to Japan through the JENESYS Programme, taking part in a disaster resilience tour organised by the Japanese Embassy.

"We received lectures from local and central government officials, shared disaster experiences with Kumamoto Gakuen University students, and experienced an earthquake survival simulation at a Tokyo disaster prevention facility. We also learned about Japanese culture and local community DRR initiatives during a home stay in Kumamoto prefecture. It was a wonderful experience learning about world-leading DRR in Japan and I would highly recommend this to others."

Describing the UC campus as 'ātaahua', Kristie-Lee recalls her time at uni as both a great social and academic experience, with amazing facilities and support services that contributed to her successes.

With her studies now supporting her out in the workforce, Kristie-Lee says the Disaster Risk and Resilience degree is great preparation for a variety of roles in disaster risk reduction.

"The magic about this master's programme is that it opens lots of doors. I have colleagues from the same programme that became planners, policy analysts, risk consultants, GIS specialists, humanitarians, academics, and emergency management advisors – jobs across public and private sectors.

"Your work will have real impact, informing decisions and action. I would recommend this programme to anyone who wants their science to make a difference."

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