Sir Peter Blake Trust: Gary Wilson

Gary Wilson.
Gary Wilson.

Blake leader Professor Gary Wilson is the director of the New Zealand Antarctic Research Institute and lead researcher on the Deep South National Science Project, the first of 10 such Government-funded initiatives.

What does a typical day at work look like?

I could find myself anywhere in the world, from an Antarctic ice cap, to a boat deep in the Southern Ocean, to the laboratory, lecturing or running a field-trip with students, travelling up and down the country or the world to give talks, or developing strategic research plans. The most typical part of my day is the precious few hours in the evening, after my boys have gone to bed, when I find time to dream and plan how we can address global-scale problems and achieve the inter-generational outcomes that we need.

How would your colleagues describe you?

A bulldozer with a turbo charger fitted. We also joke about me having a low emotional quotient, but hopefully they know that the end goal is bigger than any one of us and are happy to help me get us there.

I tend to be the one leading the development of the vision, and strategy to get there, whether from in front or in a supporting role.

Tell us about someone who has been a mentor to you?

My mother was ill when I was growing up and she knew she was not going to live to see her children grow up and succeed. Living in that environment could have been oppressive but she made it enlightening. And my wife, Kate, teaches me how to communicate in a way that engages a wide range of folks.

What was a low moment and how did you deal with it?

Probably the most difficult part of a scientist's life is transitioning from study to a career. It can involve many years of proposal writing, hand-to-mouth contracts, short-term positions and working long hours for little immediate reward. Early career science is not for the faint-hearted.

What was the best piece of career advice you ever received?

Look beyond the end of your own nose.

What do you think will be a significant business or societal issue in the next decade?

The impact of climate change, as our Earth warms up, is going to be a big challenge. The biggest part of that challenge is dealing with the insidious nature of climate change and engaging New Zealanders in where we will end up, so we can work out how much change we want to adapt to and at what point we start to put some mitigation in place.

What is a dream that you currently have?

To live in a country that is not frightened of the big challenges. We are a nation of pioneers but in general we've become complacent and more self-focused. Let's get back to the big questions and challenges of our nation and work collectively to progress them, rather than shelving progress because it's a bit too hard right now. It's not going to get easier if we wait.

- NZ Herald

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