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Student story

Maisie Hopkins

31 August 2023

"I really enjoy the variety of work that comes with the role of being an environmental scientist..."

Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science and Chemistry
Bachelor of Science with Honours in Environmental Science
Environmental Scientist, Beca

What inspired you to become an environmental scientist?

I chose this career path because I wanted to be a part of the growing efforts to create sustainable cities and communities in Aotearoa New Zealand, thereby helping to protect our incredibly unique landscapes and biodiversity. Being raised on the West Coast of the South Island – surrounded by very raw and untouched landscapes – has played a big part in developing this passion.

Additionally, I have found that studying and learning about the current and future environmental issues New Zealand faces has only fuelled my interests more in this subject, particularly anything in relation to climate change and contaminated land.

How does your role at Beca support sustainability in Aotearoa?

Beca is an engineering consultancy that has an Environmental and Sustainability Advisory team. In my role, I work mostly in contaminated land. This often involves site investigations – undertaking field work (soil and water sampling and monitoring), assessing the results, and advising clients on how to make decisions about managing land and water in a way that presents as little risk as possible to the environment and human health.

What’s the best part about working in this job?

I really enjoy the variety of work that comes with the role of being an environmental scientist. Although most of my work is in contaminated land, there are also opportunities for me to be involved in projects in other areas – such as water quality, air quality, ecology, and sustainability.

Additionally, the work within each of these sub-disciplines is also broad, so you develop a wide range of skills and knowledge areas. This is also often transferable to other branches of science, which can present many opportunities that you might not initially anticipate!

So how did your studies prepare you for this?

Environmental Science is a multidisciplinary subject that exposes you to so many niche branches of science that you might not get to delve into in other science majors. Resource management, climate risk and adaptation, water quality, contaminated land, air quality and modelling, and ecotoxicology are just a number of examples of sub-disciplines of environmental science.  I think having a substantial breadth of knowledge is very valuable in the sense that your knowledge and skills are transferable, and this can open many doors in terms of career opportunities. University also teaches you to be conscious of workload and time management, which I’ve found to be good preparation for entering the workforce.

Tell us more about your degree – what was it like studying at UC?

The way my degree was structured with majoring in Chemistry and Environmental Science worked really well. I found that they balanced well together, and it was great to have such a broad variety of courses available to take – as well as the compulsory papers for each major. I also felt like the UC campus itself was a really nice environment, and Christchurch is also a great location that is central to a lot of places in the South Island – which suited my lifestyle outside of study really well!

In my final year of university, I was lucky enough to be involved in the Aotearoa Impacts and Mitigation of Microplastics national research programme for my Honours research project, which investigated the accumulation of trace elements on microplastics in wastewater treatment plants. Environmental science is a rapidly expanding and very relevant field of work at present, so it has always felt rewarding to be studying, conducting research, and working in a career that is making a difference.

Why did UC’s campus appeal to you?

One thing that stood out the most was the sense of community on campus. The environment and people you are surrounded by has a great impact on your overall experience and ultimately, how well you can perform – whether it be a job or study. At UC I always felt like the students and staff were passionate about their studies and willing to work together. There was also a great amount of support available, both academic and related to health and wellbeing.

Where would you like to see your career end up in the future?

I have always had a long-term career ambition of working for a science research institute such as NIWA or GNS, or an equivalent organisation overseas. I also would like to do further postgraduate study at some point in my future career, just not sure where or what as of yet!

I feel very fortunate to have chosen this career path, as it is such an important and rapidly growing field of science at the present time.

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