Sunkita Howard from Punakaiki is researching the use of weak electricity to deter shark bycatch from longline fishing gear, at the College of William & Mary in Gloucester Point, Virginia, towards a PhD in Zoology from the University of Otago.
The sharks that I study migrate seasonally, so I had to work fast while they were in the area. It was intense! In barely six months, I completed four separate shark behaviour and physiology experiments. Great technical support made it possible – lab staff had everything ready when I arrived in the US. The manager of Virginia Institute of Marine Science’s seawater lab adapted the tank room for me, while the shore facilities manager built me customised equipment. It was incredible working without the usual logistical dilemmas that come with trying to be innovative. The outcome was a breakthrough in developing my shark bycatch reduction device. On the back of those strong results, I’ve gained funding for 2015 field trials in New Zealand.
Joining a crew of researchers all studying sharks was a highlight, a rare treat in such an unusual field of specialty. I was proud to share my research with more than 20 groups who visited the lab. I later presented at the Society for Human Ecology Annual Conference and felt that all the practice in public speaking paid off! My focus now is interviewing commercial fishermen, to learn about the international context of the industry that my research seeks to support.
(top photo: Michael Male)
Jamie Branch from Topeka, Kansas completed a Master of Mechanical Engineering degree, specialising in kinematic and biomechanical gait analysis of individuals with cerebral palsy, at the University of Auckland.
The objective of my research was to investigate the effectiveness of rehabilitation programs for adults with cerebral palsy. Kinematic and kinetic data was captured to analyse motion trajectories of participants pre- and post- therapy sessions. This project leveraged my skills as an engineer and enabled me to apply them to improving the quality of life of individuals with disabilities.
Outside of conducting research I greatly enjoyed immersing myself in Kiwi culture. One of the most rewarding activities was my involvement with competitive sailing. Having been raised in one of the most land-locked states in the US, it was enthralling to learn the mechanisms of sailing and race at a competitive level in ‘the City of Sails.’ While it would be impossible to hike the entirety of New Zealand, I was able to tramp an extensive amount of areas throughout the North and South Islands. Hiking provided an opportunity to bond with a fun group of people while experiencing the stunning scenery abundant throughout the country.
Since completing my masters I have moved to Houston, Texas to begin work in the engineering industry and pursue my professional engineering license.