Denise Fernandez

Denise has achieved her dream of becoming a physical oceanographer and looks back at her experiences completing her PhD at the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA).

Denise Fernandez

Programme: Doctor of Philosophy in the School of Environment, in affiliation with the Joint Graduate School in Coastal and Marine Science.
Specialisation: Physical Oceanography
Graduation: May 2017.

"I always wanted to be a physical oceanographer and was fascinated with the ocean. How it works and why is so important for climate. I found physical oceanography to be quite special: a blend of physics, maths and natural sciences providing the fundamental conditions for the Earth to be a habitat, not only for marine species but for all animals and humans all as small pieces of a global chain. It also interacts with other sciences such as biology, geology and chemistry which I always wanted to learn a bit from.

"I loved all the opportunities I had, such as going to sea to do fieldwork to meeting people in conferences (local and overseas). I also appreciate the freedom I was given to do my research where I could choose a topic of my own interest but having the guidance from my supervisors on how to conduct research.

"The title of my thesis was Variability, coherence and forcing mechanisms in the New Zealand ocean boundary currents.

"The boundary currents are fast, narrow flows along the eastern margin of New Zealand forming part of the western boundary current system of the South Pacific. The currents transport heat, salt and nutrients influencing the structure of water masses, setting the physical environment and thereby impacting biota including fisheries off the east coast of New Zealand. In my thesis I investigated the mean and variability of the current transports, at interannual and decadal time scales over 20 years of satellite altimeter observations and in situ data along the full eastern boundary of New Zealand. What drive the variability of these currents and whether all of them show some coherence in the way they transport water along the margins of New Zealand were some of the questions that I answered in my research.

I had a rich experience doing my research while immersed in such a practical environment. I worked and got to know a lot of oceanographers (which are my colleagues now) that were super generous with their time and knowledge. People at NIWA are really experts in their fields. That, combined with the mentorship from my supervisor at UoA created the best setting for my studies.

Dr Denise Fernandez

"For those considering postgraduate study at a Joint Graduate School, do your research before your research. For example: which school you want to go to, who you want to work with and do not hesitate to contact the people you want to work with and ask them if they have an opportunity or a postgraduate project you can work in.

"But the most important thing above all is that you find a topic you are really passionate about, because that passion and tenacity to do research will help you navigate through the lows and highs of the postgraduate life. Motivation will come and go but if you develop some discipline, routine and your research topic drives you, then things will get easier and super enjoyable.

"I had the University of Auckland PhD scholarship. It really helped with some of the living costs while studying, although the main support during my studies came from my family, definitely having a scholarship covering your school fees is the best scenario for any student pursuing a career in science.

"I’m grateful for the people that I met during my PhD program at NIWA and the UoA, especially both my supervisors. Now most of them are my colleagues and I benefit everyday from their experience. I was given many opportunities to grow, learn, and keep developing as a scientist which is a dream come true. Now five years after graduation I have a permanent position as a physical oceanographer at NIWA and I enjoy every minute of it (well perhaps not doing admin/time sheets!)."