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Meet Rebecca McMullin

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Job: 

PhD student at the University of Otago.

Job description: 

I research how organic wastes that leave salmon farms in the form of waste feed or as fecal matter effect food web structure and connectivity in the food webs surrounding the farms. My study sites are located near salmon farms in the Marlborough Sounds.

Work background: 

As well as being a university student I have been involved in planting native trees around streams on farms, as a field assistant monitoring the behaviour and breeding success of the South Island robin and as a lab demonstrator for several undergraduate papers at Otago University.

Favourite part of job: 

Being out in the field and diving at some really neat locations around New Zealand, including sites in the Marlborough Sounds and Fiordland. Occasional visits from seals and seven gill sharks always make for memorable dives!

Least favourite part of job: 

At times lab work can get a bit repetitive but it’s usually worth it when you finally get some data to work with.

What I am working on now: 

I’m working on processing grab samples collected from around salmon farms and from reference sites without salmon farms in the Marlborough Sounds. This involves sorting, identifying and counting species from the soft sediment habitats, and then analysing their tissue using a technique called stable isotope analysis. This technique can help us to understand how important farm waste is as a source of nutrients for different organisms in the ecosystem and how the input of these nutrients from farms may affect food web connections.

A quick story about a job well done: 

Being a part of a research group that works well as a team is really important. As an individual it often seems that there isn’t enough time to achieve everything you would like when sampling in the field, but when you add a team of six or seven people all working together you can get an impressive amount of work done for a number of projects in just a two or three weeks.

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

I was helping out a girl in my marine science class. We were planning to collect sediment samples from Tomahawk Lagoon in Dunedin. There were two of us in a one man kayak and as we were paddling out into the lagoon the wind picked up like crazy. We just kept getting further away from where we needed to go and despite paddling hard we were going backwards. Somehow we managed not to flip the kayak, which was lucky considering the cold water. We got back to shore, unfortunately without the samples. It was a bit of a disaster but pretty funny at the same time. What I learned was to be prepared for any weather conditions when working in the field and also that I need to work on my upper body strength for paddling kayaks against the wind.

Qualifications: 
  • BSc in Zoology and Genetics
  • MSc in Marine Science
Interests outside work: 

Tramping, diving and snorkeling, gardening and pets.


Rebecca McMullin catches fish in Antarctica as part of her Masters of Science research. Rebecca is now studying for a PhD at the University of Otago. Image: LEARNZ.