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PhD student wins Fulbright Travel Award

9 July 2014

PhD student wins Fulbright Travel Award

University of Waikato second-year PhD student Monica Peters has won a $3000 Fulbright New Zealand Travel Award.

With her scholarship, Monica will attend the 34th International North American Lake Management Society Symposium in Tampa, Florida in November where she will present her research into citizen science and water quality monitoring.

Monica’s PhD research is inspired by volunteer community groups throughout New Zealand that are carrying out environmental restoration in degraded landscapes such as gullies, lakes, wetlands and forests. She is exploring whether their “citizen science” monitoring data can be integrated with “professional science” data to build a more complete picture of environmental health.

Science provides a set of tools for objectively measuring changes, and groups’ use of these tools has been a long-term interest of Monica’s, along with how to communicate science to non-scientists.

She says in the US there is a long history of water quality monitoring being carried out by community groups. Dedicated volunteers collect data which scientists then analyse on behalf of research managers.

“In New Zealand water quality monitoring is largely the domain of scientists. What can we learn from these successful volunteer programmes in the US that could be applied to New Zealand? Community volunteer involvement potentially represents a whole spectrum of data collection and observation that otherwise wouldn’t be done.”

On her trip to the US, Monica will also spend time with Florida Lake Watch at the University of Florida, which is a volunteer network set up to collect data with the university acting as a lab to assess the data. Then she’ll go on to the Lake Sunapee Protective Association in New Hampshire to talk to volunteers and find out what motivates them, and how their programmes work in a “nuts and bolts” way.

“I’m very excited about the trip. Even though I’ve been to the States before, this time I’m going with a really specific focus and I expect to gain a lot from the experience.”

At Waikato, Monica is supervised by Professor David Hamilton and Dr Chris Eames from the Faculty of Science and Engineering. Originally from Auckland, Monica has a Post Graduate Diploma in Science and Master of Science in ecology from Otago University, a Masters in Fine Arts from the University of Southampton, UK, and a Bachelor of Visual Arts from AUT.

She has travelled and worked in other countries, including spending 18 months in Mongolia working for aid organisations where she wrote two books on the flora, fauna and conservation challenges of the Gobi Desert.

Monica was also the winner of the Three Minute Thesis (3MT) Competition in 2013, winning $3000 and securing her a spot in the Trans-Tasman 3MT in Perth November, which she will attend a week before heading to the US in November.


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