The final draft of my PhD was handed in a fortnight or so ago, between attending the NZ Ecological Society Conference in Christchurch and the Science Communicators of NZ conference in Wellington.
The 8-chapter thesis will be examined in the coming months by an Australian or NZ academic (Australians counting as honorary kiwis in this case) and an academic from a country other than NZ. There’s an oral exam to think about too, where examiners critique content and I ‘defend’ the thesis by way of intelligent justification…
It’s been a challenge to find an NZ examiner who is conversant with community environmental restoration and who also understands citizen science. This highlights a gap in academia for research that investigates community-led conservation and environmental monitoring carried out by non-science professional within the context of ecological restoration. This is extraordinary considering the amount of groups we know of in NZ (> 600), and their considerable input to biodiversity conservation nationally: pest animal and weed control; revegetation; species reintroductions, and not to mention the social activities (education, advocacy, submission-writing), that complement the hard work on the ground.
When I began the PhD in 2012, the term citizen science had just entered the national vocabulary. Now it’s embedded in the National Science Challenges and promoted via articles in the Herald and Listener, and programmes on National Radio. So the original research focus on community-based environmental monitoring, morphed into grassroots citizen science. It’s not just a matter of semantics, it’s tapping into a broader philosophy around nurturing the relationship between members of the community and science, and how scientific research can be carried out in a more inclusive manner.
Next, I will be joining the NZ Landcare Trust on a new project “Citizen science meets environmental restoration” the aim of which is to bring leadership and strategic direction to this dynamic field. My first activity will be an inventory of citizen science activities underway in New Zealand. I’ve already started this with the help of participants who joined citizen science workshop I ran at the NZ Ecological Society conference (Nov 16 – 20, 2015).
After the inventory, I’ll be co-facilitating a series of working group meetings with NZLT’s Alastair Cole – these will take place in Auckland, the Manawatu, Nelson and Christchurch. Content will likely centre on addressing key questions such as “How can we ensure that community members collect scientifically robust data?” More planning will take place in the coming months to ensure that we harness the collective knowledge of participants, and that ultimately, the project serves to strengthen citizen science in New Zealand. If you’d like participate in a working group – there’ll be 4 meetings in each region over the next 18 months, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
It seems that most PhDs come with some sort of horror story attached to them: poor supervision; friction caused by differing viewpoints; irretrievable loss of data; boredom with the thesis topic… but not me. My story is of excellent and supportive supervision thanks to Prof. David Hamilton and Dr. Chris Eames, lots of stimulating conversations, data that were always well backed up (consequently a stolen laptop was a minor inconvenience, not a complete disaster), and an enduring passion for community-led restoration.