Meet Matt Walkington

Printer-friendly versionPDF version
Job: 

Principal Technician - Oceanographic Systems.

Job description: 

Anything (and I mean anything, as it comes up) related to providing the technology for or doing the science of ocean CTD observations from ships and other platforms (e.g. holes in Antarctic Ice sheets).

Work background: 

Apart from various non-career jobs when I was a student, I've worked all my working life at NIWA and its forerunner DSIR doing pretty much this role.

Favourite part of job: 

Working with a bunch of interesting and clever colleagues at the Greta Point science center in Wellington and from all over the world of oceanography from such countries as Australia, USA, UK, France, Germany, Spain, Canada, Japan, Argentina, and many others. Also having lots of exotic "toys" to play with, meaning lots of interesting and challenging technology to understand and make work.

Least favourite part of job: 

The problem is that my job is also a hobby that I feel completely absorbed by and committed to. That's really good but it also means that I end up working long hours and doing crazy things to do my best to make sure things work out for my immediate work team. Also science is often underfunded.

What I am working on now: 

I have just completed some changes to computer software needed to cope with some unusual failures of our CTD equipment on this trip aboard Tangaroa. These changes will allow us to easily compare the measurements of the CTD's electronic sensors with the results of measurements of the same quantities made by taking and processing water samples using lab. equipment. I'm sitting here in the container lab where the water samples are measured typing on my laptop.

A quick story about a job well done: 

Last night I had to work unexpectedly from 1 am until 4 am "re-terminating the sea-cable". The sea-cable is the electric and mechanical cable that fits to a large winch in Tangaroa's winch room and allows us to lower the CTD frame 5 or more kilometres from the sea surface to the sea bottom and back. The sea-cable got damaged because of the rough seas and a short section of its 10 km length, maybe 30 metres, had to be cut off. That meant I had to redo the electrical connection, or termination, between the sea-cable and the CTD. It's only two wires to connect but they have to be done a particular way and have to be insulated from the sea water in a way that will last as long as possible. It looks like the termination worked well. I've had plenty of practice at this job over the years.

A (humorous) story about a job that went badly and what you learned: 

Kind of humourous but mainly painful: for the present project, I went to extreme lengths to make sure that an instrument we might have needed (an AUTOSAL salinometer for measuring the salt content of seawater samples) went to Canada for repair and recalibration. Despite the odds and difficulties it all seemed to have happened just in time with the salinometer due back at great expense on the day of departure. But there was a final hiccup. The freight company forgot or neglected to work out and tell me that the box would have to come by road from Auckland to Wellington, rather than as air freight, and that would mean an extra day on top of their original advice.What I learned is something I knew already. Assumption is the mother of all stuff ups. You can't assume that other people will prioritise a job in the same way that you would yourself and that, if you want to make something happen with certainty and without errors and delays, you can't assume the job is under control and you need to check back with people regardless of their reassurances. Of course, in many situations, you need to balance that advice with the long-term need to be on good terms with people you work with and not be too much of a pain to them.

Qualifications: 

M.Sc. but I didn't study oceanography or ocean technology directly. I came from a background of Physics and Astronomy.

Interests outside work: 

Family. Music of all kinds. All kinds of armchair sport but mainly the usual Kiwi favourites. I used to be a half decent fast bowler in cricket and a passable back and sometimes centre forward in hockey.  Gadgets. Walking to the top of Mount Kau Kau. Generally getting into the great outdoors. Environmental issues. Politics. 

Watch the video where Matt talks about his career as a science technician (21MB mp4 file).


Meet Matt Walkington, Principal Technician for Oceanographic Systems.