Pūhoro rangatahi celebrate success on International Day of Women and Girls in Science

It is a variety of perspectives that spark innovation and world-leading science – and this summer we were delighted to host four Pūhoro STEM Academy tauira, three of whom rangatahi wāhine, at Riddet Institute HQ. Raythe Tanoa-Te Purei (Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Kahungunu ki te Wairoa, Ngāti Maniapoto), Amber Te Tau (Rangitāne, Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairarapa) and Georgia Patching (Ngāti Kauwhata, Ngāti Kahungunu) each experienced research in our centre of excellence; learning about and contributing to helping to solve real-life science problems in sustainable food industry practices, product development and sensory testing, food bioactives, nutrients, dietary recommendations and proteins!

Our three wāhine Māori gained valuable experience including new ways of working, independent research techniques, new scientific laboratory skills, networking, and professional skills over their 10-week internship from November to February – all of which they can take with them into their scientific careers. All three tauira found that they enjoyed the multicultural scientific environment, meeting scientists, and learning about potential further study and scientific careers, was a highlight.

Amber, who won the top award for her scientific poster at the Pūhoro STEM Academy celebration to end the internships last week, is now entering her third year at Massey University studying for a Bachelor of Science (Genetics). Amber was able to develop independent working skills during her project and says she valued the opportunity to experience that. “I started from scratch and built up my knowledge as my project progressed, without an imposed direction. I realised this was how it works in a research career, that I was free to explore”. Georgia agrees that the knowledge and skills she gained during the internship were very valuable, and experiencing real research is something she can take with her into the last year of her degree.

Georgia is studying for a Bachelor of Science (human nutrition/sport and exercise) and studying te reo Māori at Massey University in Palmerston North. Her goal is to speak fluent te reo before she graduates. Learning about protein as a macronutrient, its digestion and biochemistry has fascinated Georgia. She has applied to her findings to her own diet supporting her sporting activities. Whilst her research was more literature based, she also took the chance to do some sensory trials, work in the Massey University FoodPilot and the product development laboratory.

Georgia Patching (left) and Amber Te Tau making ice cream in the Massey University FoodPilot

Raythe, who got to experience both laboratory and literature-based work felt she got an equal balance between the two aspects of research. Raythe is studying for a Bachelor of Science (Environmental Science, minoring in Māori Studies) stresses that the advanced skills she has developed have been brought to the forefront in her internship and she worked on her professional communication skills.

“Communication is a hard skill to master. I realised I have improved throughout the internship. You are always learning new things in laboratory or research work, but the interpersonal skills are crucial. I worked in a scientific team – with a whole group of people I got to know well. Being surrounded by welcoming people, I felt comfortable doing that and so I was able to get the most out of the experience.”

One of the unexpected benefits from the internship was finding out about the different types of career paths available in science, having the opportunity to meet experts and talk to people who are leading their field. Georgia relished the opportunity and has talked to scientists from many different cultures, ethnicities, and scientific disciplines whilst at the Institute. Raythe got to connect with a lot of people across the Institute, and like the other tauira connected with a Riddet Institute Māori agri-business strategic partner and appreciated this opportunity too. Amber thinks the networking is something she will continue to benefit from. “Learning about everyone in different fields and discovering options that I didn’t know were there. We had meetings with lot of different scientists and leant so much about different careers, where our science can take us. Obviously, we are just starting our careers and to hear these stories is inspirational”.

All three students will be returning to full stime study at Massey University in 2021 and graduating in 2022. They are now considering their future careers and the direction they might take.  “I am thinking about further study now, I wasn’t before. There are a lot of PhD students at the Institute and to experience that environment has been exciting. A PhD may set me up for a potential job. If I could come back, I would. I want to see what opportunities present themselves”, Amber said. Georgia “wants to grasp every opportunity in a scientific career and open doors, travel to new places and see the world through science”. Raythe is searching for opportunities to combine her passions. “I want to go into a scientific career and make a positive impactful difference on the environment, within different businesses. There are so many places I could go. My experience at the Riddet Institute as has made me realise there is so much more to a career in science. You can do so many different things and take so many paths!”

Melanie Ruffell, Stakeholder Relationship Manager at the Institute, works in close partnership with Pūhoro STEM Academy, and is delighted with the success of the first round of joint Pūhoro/Riddet Matangirua Summer Scholarships. “It has been such a pleasure to get to know our four talented tauira over the summer and we will miss their smiling faces! Huge thanks to our dedicated team of Kaiārahi (supervisors), who have been able to share knowledge and experiences with these inspiring rangatahi. We have learnt many valuable insights from them too, making the whole experience extra rewarding. Our wonderful partnership with Pūhoro is based on the shared vision to develop Māori capability and capacity in science, to help create an environment that sparks meaningful science pathways for rangatahi Māori. It is a huge privilege to support this critically important kaupapa – and simultaneously deepen our understanding of Te Ao Māori, mātauranga Māori and how to support Māori values in our work.  As the value of all women and girls in science is celebrated globally today, and as we reflect on the power of indigenous innovation to strengthen local communities and national economies; we are deeply thankful for Māori-led initiatives such as the Pūhoro STEM programme who are inspiring and supporting tauira Māori.  We look forward to following the STEM journey of these rangatahi with their passion for science. The Riddet Institute whānau would be delighted to see them back with us at Te Ohu Rangahau Kai if their career path brought them this way again”.

Thanks to Riddet Institute supervisor’s Dr Anant Dave, Dr Lakshmi Dave, Dr Ali Rashidinejad, Dr Nikki Renall, Jiby James, and Melanie Ruffell.

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