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Student story

Michelle Williamson

02 August 2023

"Biology can take you anywhere..."


Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences

Postgraduate Diploma in Science in Biological Sciences

Master of Science in Biological Sciences

Contract Coordinator, Institute of Environmental Science and Research Ltd (ESR)

What does your role with ESR involve?

I liaise between scientists, the corporate office, and stakeholders on contractual aspects of scientific work. This includes both commercial work and research projects.

Many contracts I handle from inception to completion (writing the contract through to ensuring the contractual obligations have been met). A good chunk of my role is contract negotiation with stakeholders. This can be around the terms and conditions, hourly rates, milestones, etc.

How did study prepare you for managing all of those details?

The science ESR does is very different to what I studied at uni. However, the basics never change. Uni gave me an understanding of the jargon and the processes behind research projects. Postgraduate study really helped develop my networking and science communication skills which have come in REALLY handy in my role.

Why did you first decide to study Biological Sciences?

I LOVED biology at school. I suppose that made my subject choice pretty easy. My mum also has a Master of Science (in Chemistry) so I thought it was pretty cool that I could (almost) follow in her stead. It was her qualification that really motivated me to continue my study once I had received my Bachelor’s.

What made you choose UC to follow that path?

Someone once told me that the UC School of Biological Sciences was the best in New Zealand so that was a driver. Also, the ability to still live at home helped big time.

So did UC live up to your expectations?

UC is filled with the most amazing, eclectic mix of people across such a variety of disciplines. From staff to students, everyone is so friendly, encouraging and driven to want you to succeed. It was such a great community to be a part of. I’ve made friends for life.

How did you get involved with the community?

I was the Public Relations Officer and then the President of Golden Key Canterbury. This is where I’ve made some of those ‘friends for life’. Golden Key brings people together across a range of disciplines/subjects all with the common goal of academic success.

Golden Key pushed me outside of the ‘science’ bubble and gave me the opportunities to develop my communication and leadership skills in a more ‘real-world’ setting.

And now in your work you are liaising with so many people!

There are so many personalities in science! Far too often people assume the stereotypical scientist (I’m imagining Albert Einstein here), but this couldn’t be further from the truth. My job relies on me collecting different bits of information from a range of individuals be that scientific, financial, legal, etc. For each individual, I tailor my way of communicating to grease the wheels to get what I need.

The people I encounter in my role really are fascinating!

Is that something you wish more people knew about doing Biological Sciences?

Biology can take you anywhere. The skills you develop in a science degree are highly transferrable and can be applied to any role in any industry. I’ve always felt like my study was a bit like the jack-of-all-trades in a degree.

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