International Day of Women and Girls in Science

Department of Conservation —  11/02/2019

It’s International Day of Women and Girls in Science today, so we caught up with one of our awesome female scientists – Dr Monique Ladds. Mon is one of our Technical Advisors for Marine Ecosystems. She has a Bachelor of Applied Science (Psychology), Masters of Applied Science (Statistics and Operations Research) and Doctor of Philosophy (Biology). Mon has shared her love of science and career journey with us.

– By Monique Ladds

Where it all began:

Science for me started in the midst of high school, when I started trying to understand why people were all so different. So, I enrolled in a Bachelor of Psychology. I thought that by learning to understand people I could help them, but instead what I found was a love of the biological components behind the person.

We learnt about how the eye actually sees everything upside down, and the brain turns it up the right way. That the place where you produce speech is in a different spot to where we understand speech. I also learnt that there are far more things we DON’T know about the brain than we DO know. It just seemed like there was so much space for discovery in this space, thus my love and perusal of a scientific career begun.


On the boat to Montague Island, NSW, Australia to collect scats, 2017.

A few highlights:

During my PhD I lived in Sydney, but I only spent about 6 months of the year there. I was conducting fieldwork for my project and for others which took me all around the country and to Canada. I worked with fur seals, sea lions, petrels, shearwaters, sharks among others. I worked with researchers, conservationists, zoo keepers, fishers, government officials and vets. I once lived in a stone hut with no running water or toilet for 10 days tagging fur seals and removing rubbish they had become entangled with. I spent a month on a boat collecting data on the strangest deep-sea fishes. All of these opportunities arose from working closely with people doing science.


Posing with Nelson the one-eyed subantartic fur seal at Sea Life Mooloolabah, Sunshine Coast, QLD Australia, 2018


The most interesting project I worked on at university was research into what seals did when they were at sea, and how much energy they would spend in different activities. We discovered that seals groom a lot! About 25% of their time at sea is spent making themselves beautiful. We also found out that in summer, when seals are expending more energy because of the heat they spend more time resting. Seals are very good energy savers. When they dive, they spend a lot of time gliding rather than stroking.

My role at DOC:

Since moving into biology, I’ve been wanting to work in conservation. I had ambitions to do more than write journal articles and was seeking a place that would support me doing science, but that would also help me to implement it.

DOC seemed like the perfect place to integrate all of my skills, and to have a lot of fun doing it. I was right! Since starting at DOC I have worked on projects involving marine reserves, geoducks (an strange and wonderful bivalve I had never heard of before) and snapper. I have had to use my skills in modelling, mapping, writing and most importantly communication. My job is different every day and has lead me to see some amazing places and meet amazing people all over New Zealand.


Checking out the scenery with Sitka, a Steller sea lion, in Vancouver, Canada 2017

Advice for young women interested in a career in science:

Science comes in so many different shapes and forms, so its important to try a variety of its expressions if you can. It took me 10 years and a lot of experimental jobs to find the one that I really wanted, but along the way I picked up invaluable knowledge and had unforgettable experiences that made every bit of the journey worthwhile. So give it a go, say yes to lots of things (not everything!!) and don’t be afraid to ask questions (especially if it is…”do you need help on that field trip?”).

In science you need to be just as creative as you are methodological and logical. To solve a problem in science you need to think outside the box, which usually means being creative on the run. This means that science needs people from all kinds of backgrounds, and especially needs people who think differently.

Keep an eye on our career page for our current vacancies.

2 responses to International Day of Women and Girls in Science


    Science and gender equality are both vital for the achievement of the internationally agreed development goals.

    Kim Brandon 12/02/2019 at 6:00 pm

    thanks Monique. that was a fantastic account of the jobs you do and the neat opportunities you had from being a kern to help person.thanks for your hard work