Alumni Spotlight: Elizabeth Farnham


Elizabeth is a PhD candidate at Victoria University of Wellington, pursuing a doctorate in Marine Biology. Prior to attaining her master's degree, she worked as an environmental educator where she discovered her passion for teaching and conservation.

Why did you choose this program?

One of the main draws for the Master's of Marine Conservation program at VUW was affordability. I was able to obtain a well-rounded, practical, and high-quality education for the fraction of the cost of an almost identical program in the US.

Additionally, the advisors were quick to answer my questions before enrolling, were personable and passionate about my interests in marine science, and seemed excited to have me as a student. This enthusiasm was lacking in every other program I applied for and it made my decision to attend very easy.

What did your university assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

The university has an amazing support system for international students. They provided help and advice for organizing travel and accommodation as well as how to extend my visa at the end of my studies. They even provided a pick-up service from the airport to ensure I felt welcomed upon arriving in New Zealand.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

New Zealand is amazing, so be prepared to never want to leave! With that being said it is very isolated and traveling home is time-consuming and often expensive.

I have always told any of my friends who want to go overseas to go for it, it was the best decision I have made so far. Getting away and seeing how other parts of the world operate and live is an essential life experience.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

Honestly, it varies and that's the best part, the class structure is an equal split between seminar/discussions and field-courses.

For a seminar you can expect an environmental professional from industry, government, or a non-profit to come speak to you about the particular conservation issues they face and how to approach them, providing knowledge and ample networking opportunities.

As for a field course, we spent a week on an isolated island in the Wakatobi, Indonesia. A day on Hoga consisted of environmental assessment snorkels over coral reefs and other tropical habitats in the mornings to develop practical skills, followed by a lecture in the afternoon. During the field-course, we worked with students and lecturers from Indonesian which provided a unique educational and cultural experience I will never forget.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

My biggest fear moving to New Zealand was being so far from home, but this was quickly remedied by the amazing group of peers I was able to study with.

Upon beginning my courses I found myself surrounded by a group of like-minded people and friendships were formed almost instantly.

After this experience I continue to realize how much I enjoy meeting people from different backgrounds and going abroad is the best way to achieve this.

What makes New Zealand different from anywhere else in the world?

Where do I begin... it is an island nation providing all of the best things in the world for someone who loves the outdoors. From dramatic snow-capped mountains, to beautiful beaches, temperate rainforest, glacial lakes, and volcanic fields, just to name a few. Beyond awe-inspiring views is the community and respect for nature that everyone seems to share is unheard of. Science is something often worked on collaboratively for the greater good of the environment, industry, and government with the hopes of a sustainable future for all the above. I have never had to hesitate when asking for help and advice from my colleagues or other scientists and in this way New Zealand is unique.