UC Science Radio: Episode 12

Dr John Pirker: Igniting the flame of learning

UC Science Radio Ep 12: Dr John Pirker

It’s incredible what one conversation with the right person can do. For marine biologist Dr John Pirker, a kōrero around his neighbour’s kitchen table, with a few of his Ngāi Tahu kaumātua, set him on the path of becoming a scientist.

Dr Pirker is now on a mission to ‘ignite the flame of learning’ in today’s rangatahi. Learn more in our latest episode of UC Science Radio.

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Read a transcript of the interview.

In this episode:

­02:31 Supporting Māori, and the environment, mahinga kai, and trying to embed some Mātauranga Māori across the sciences as well, so that's where I’ve focused my research.

04:46 Engaging and working with Māori and incorporating Mātauranga Māori, the first step is working with Māori and developing that relationship at the beginning of any research process. Sitting down on the marae, discussing what you're proposing today and see how your work could benefit Māori.

05:25 There's other knowledge systems out there that have often described a lot of what we see today in Western science terms, but just in a different way of observing or knowing.

05:58 We have an outreach programme that we run with five schools around Christchurch, with Year 10 Māori students who look at the water quality there in the tributaries that feed Te Waihora. That's a fantastic programme.

06:21 It's generally focused on the environment and impacts of us on the environment, and then flow-on effects from that to food, mahinga kai, kai moana.

10:35 I think your undergraduate years are most informative, most fun and the colleagues and the friendships that you make.

12:16 There's always, I suppose, that mollusk (pāua) that's been sitting in the background of all my research career.

12:40 Field trips are daunting when preparing for it and busy when you're running it, but when it's all said and done and you've finished with it, it's fantastic.

13:18 I enjoy the field trips, I enjoy the teaching, I enjoy giving my dad jokes.

13:47 It's just nice to know that some of those students who come through will be the drivers of policy, the top researchers that will lead the country forward.

14:29 My work is important because I hope that it ignites the flame of learning and the inspiration to learn, and starts a journey for both undergraduate and postgraduate students.

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Meet our speakers

John Pirker

John Pirker

Dr John Pirker is of Ngāi Tahu, Te Ātiawa and Ngāti Porou descent, and a member of Te Rūnanga o Moeraki. He is a scientist and lecturer in Biological Sciences and Indigenous Knowledge at the University of Canterbury. His research focus is driven by kaupapa research methodologies that includes sand beach, estuary and rocky reef ecology, primarily focused on taonga species ecology, including growth, mortality and enhancement and recovery of pāua (Haliotis iris), pūpū (Lunella smaragdus) and tuangi (Austrovenus stutchburyi) and biogenic habitats that support the nearshore ecosystem. The application of mātauranga Māori in science is an important aspect to both his teaching and research.  

Inspired to get into science by his Ngāi Tahu kaumātua, Dr Pirker is passionate about creating opportunities for rangatahi, especially in science. He is a co-founder of – a partnership between UC’S College of Science and several Canterbury secondary schools, aimed at encouraging Māori secondary school students into science at university. The programme engages Year 10 Māori students in the culture of science by involving them in real-world scientific research. The scheme is already changing lives and encouraging rangatahi to consider new pathways for their future.

Dr Pirker is also involved in the Ngāi Tahu Consultation and Engagement Group (NTCEG) and the Marine Ecology Research Group (MERG).

Molly Magid

Molly Magid

Molly Magid is an MSc student at UC. A recent graduate of Brown University, Molly is working on research in conservation genomics with Associate Professor Tammy Steeves from the School of Biological Sciences. Molly is passionate about finding ways to communicate science to the public in a clear, novel, and engaging ways. Most recently, Molly worked as the lead student producer on the podcast Possibly, which answers listener's questions about sustainability using relevant science research.