Wilma Blom and her family have always been interested in natural history and the sciences.
Born in the Netherlands before emigrating to live in New Zealand for her past three years of high school, that family-wide interest would later lead her to becoming a marine scientist at Auckland Museum.
When Wilma and her family arrived in New Zealand she attended Kelston Girls’ College and Massey High School which, at the time, encouraged Wilma to take science subjects, which was the beginning of her journey.
“When I went to high school in New Zealand it was at a time when they were pushing the ‘girls can do anything’ and ‘girls can do science’ sort of thing so I headed in that direction and did biology, physics and chemistry. At university I went on to do the same sort of stuff. I was going to major in chemistry but along the way I discovered geology and the rest is history, as they say.”
Wilma completed a bachelor of science degree at The University of Auckland, then a master’s degree, before relocating to Sydney to do her PhD.
For more than three decades Wilma has been working in marine science and related areas, including work at Waikato University, the Port of Tauranga and now Auckland Museum. Wilma has found the role has both upsides and downsides.
“The worst part over the years has probably been the lack of funding in some areas. For scientists there’s always a kind of uncertainty about their job, which is where it would be really, really helpful to have contract funding from the regional council as well to help with biological monitoring work.
“For me, the best part about it has been the diversity, especially working at a museum — you get to see so many different things. I’ve worked with so many fascinating collections which started life more than one hundred years ago. Auckland Museum dates back to as early as 1852 and the collections have been built up since. It’s a real privilege to be able to work with things like that.”
For any aspiring marine scientists who are looking to follow in Wilma’s footsteps,she advises you not to over-specialise too soon, especially when in high school.
“Keep it fairly general while you’re at high school. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I definitely had an interest in science and I thought I’d take chemistry because that was where the jobs were at the time but actually, when I got to university, I didn’t particularly enjoy it.
“Then when I discovered geology I found out that I really liked that. So I think when you’re at high school don’t narrow your options too quickly.”
There is an element of stubbornness and perseverance that Wilma insists are essential to her profession.
“You’ve definitely got to be a little bit stubborn if you’re brave enough to venture to the field of marine science. I think you have to have perseverance. If it’s something you really love you have to be in for the long haul.
“You also have to be patient about wanting to get to the end result. A lot of science is about investigation and the search and it takes months – sometimes years – to get to the end of the project.
“If you really want to do it [marine scientology], you’ll find a way to do it. Some people are a little hard-nosed and want the job that’s going to pay the most money and 10 years down the track they find out that it wasn’t really what they wanted to do. Find something that you love because you spend an awful lot of your time working.”