Student perspective: What’s it like being a Research Assistant?

Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Science student Paddy Gerard discusses his experience studying Law and Geology, his Summer Scholarship, and his role as a Research Assistant reporting on sea level rise.

A profile image of Paddy Gerard with a lake and hills in the background.

For quite some time I had this silly idea that I wanted to be an anaesthetist. Thankfully I grew numb to that grisly prospect and I opted to study something a little less bloody: law.

Geology appealed to me as a practical and multi-disciplinary subject. I figured it was a good way to put my science background to use. I have found the contrast between law and geology to be refreshing, and both have been equally rewarding.

The interplay between science and the law is particularly significant in the environmental context. It is important that both can evolve in tandem; laws and regulations are only as good as the science they are based on.

As a Research Assistant and Summer Research Scholarship recipient I have been helping Associate Professor Catherine Iorns and PhD student Vanessa James with their project on housing and insurance retreat in respect of sea level rise and climate change.

I conducted a survey on legal and policy issues facing local government organisations. The survey was sent to 52 councils around New Zealand. I hadn’t done anything like this before, so it was an interesting experience. We received some excellent responses which injected valuable data into the project.

We found that it’s not as simple as chucking up a sea wall and hoping for the best. We have enough science available to make smarter decisions and minimise the effects of sea level rise on communities, but challenging peoples’ property rights is never going to be easy. This is a fundamental problem that local government organisations are dealing with all around New Zealand.

Being part of the staff team at the Law School has been an enjoyable experience. A highlight from the summer was getting to share an office with the other scholars and participating in the Christmas door decorating contest.

I’m eagerly looking forward to graduating in 2020 and finding a full-time job, ideally in a Wellington law firm. I’d love to do an OE at some stage too.