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Careers in Biodiversity

  • Sarah Killick
  • Christy Reynolds

If passion is infectious then Christy Reynolds and Sarah Killick are a virus of a good kind. These two Ecologists are sharing their enthusiasm for the environment and currently paving a name for themselves in the Covenant Monitoring Programme with Auckland Council’s Biodiversity Team.

If passion is infectious then Christy Reynolds and Sarah Killick are a virus of a good kind. These two Ecologists are sharing their enthusiasm for the environment and currently paving a name for themselves in the Covenant Monitoring Programme with Auckland Council’s Biodiversity Team.

Alumni of Unitec’s Bachelor of Applied Science majoring in Biodiversity, Christy and Sarah are key to the Auckland Council’s Covenant Monitoring Programme. This involves monitoring statutory covenants across Auckland and giving helpful advice to landowners in order to help them protect and encourage biodiversity on their private properties. A rare opportunity for only a select few, and the best part about it according to Christy: “Some of the places we get to go and see are just completely unique. We’re quite privileged to be able to go out and look at these protected bits of bush.”

Unexpectedly, both individuals came from very different backgrounds. Christy (38) who never considered himself an academic, worked as a carpenter for 15 years. It was a five month sabbatical of conservation work in the Amazon that ignited his interest in an environmentally focused career. “This is what I love, being out in the environment. That’s what’s helped me decide this is a better life path.”

Likewise, Sarah (27) a mum and previously an IT Technician, considered science as “something other people do”. Volunteer conservation work in Australia reconnected Sarah to the environment and convinced her to pursue a more fulfilling career path. “Now I get paid to do something I really enjoy. Here you can achieve visible, important results. I get to help others see that their environment is worth protecting.”

Undertaking Unitec’s degree in Applied Science intensified this passion for the environment. Meeting industry professionals, a trip to Borneo, and having access to Auckland’s only Botany Department are just a few of the highlights of their study. But it was the hands-on learning, constant support from staff, and close working relationships with other students, Unitec lecturers and industry practitioners that had a significant influence on getting them to where they are today.

The dual approach to learning at Unitec was incredibly valuable to both Christy and Sarah and to their work at Auckland Council. Sarah says “There’s a paper called Techniques in Field Biology and it’s almost exactly what you do in the field but as a paper.  You can’t put a value on that, it’s excellent, it’s perfect for the training that what we need.”

The support from staff was also invaluable, particularly to Sarah who was raising two children and holding down multiple jobs at her time of study. “Unitec is really good about flexibility” says Sarah who felt like she could ask for support when she needed. “The lecturers were really really good. It even felt homely.”

But it was the connections these two made during their time at Unitec that proved to be the career catapult. “Because Unitec has a lot of connection to people working in the industry, it means when you graduate you’re on a first name basis with someone from every major employer” says Sarah. The lecturer and student connections also proved rewarding. The opportunity for Christy to intern at the Auckland Council came directly from a Unitec lecturer referral, while Sarah found the role in part due to Christy’s involvement.

For these two environmental enthusiasts, the future looks promising. On completion of the Auckland Council summer project, Sarah plans to further her academic career and with a scholarship from the Auckland Council, will begin her Masters in July 2016. Christy, who has become a known expert to the Auckland Council on lichens, has been asked to help lecture Unitec students.

Thinking about a career in Biodiversity? Christy and Sarah would eagerly encourage you to consider Unitec. But just don’t take their word for it, Auckland Council Biodiversity Advisor Michael Ngatai, who has been involved in running the Covenant Monitoring Programme since it began, is always impressed with Unitec graduates: “every year we see great talent coming out of Unitec. They’re often match fit and ready to go, and Christy and Sarah are good examples of that”.  For this reason and much more Unitec has been the launchpad into a career that they love; as Christy would say “I felt like Unitec was my best and first choice. I’m so glad I did choose Unitec.”