Take 10 with... Jenny Hillman

Dr Jenny Hillman, Research Fellow with the Institute of Marine Science, gives us 10 minutes of her time to discuss her research into the benefits of ecosystem restoration.

Dr Jenny Hillman, Research Fellow at the Institute of Marine Science
Dr Jenny Hillman, Research Fellow at the Institute of Marine Science

1.  Describe your research topic to us in 10 words or less.

Restoring shellfish species and ecosystem functioning, and understanding the benefits.

2.  Now describe it in everyday terms!

We've lost a lot of shellfish due to overfishing and habitat change, so we are working to bring them back to places like the Hauraki Gulf and the Marlborough Sounds. This also helps to bring back the benefits that they provide to us, including previously unknown benefits that through our studies we are finding out more about.

3.   What are some of the day-to-day research activities you carry out?

I do lots of diving in places with low visibility and high currents, which I love! I also spend lots of time in the lab and at my computer analysing the subsequent samples and data that our team collects.  

4.  What do you enjoy most about your research?

I really enjoy working with my students, watching them evolve and also learning from them. I also enjoy how varied my work is.

5.  Tell us something that has surprised or amused you in the course of your research.

How much I enjoy working with sand and mud! I wanted to be a marine scientist from a very young age, but I never imagined I would end up in New Zealand studying shellfish and soft-sediments and loving it (I grew up in the African tropics surrounded by coral reefs).

6.  How have you approached any challenges you’ve faced in your research?

By learning to ask for help from my fantastic colleagues and mentors. We work through challenges together. 

7.  What questions have emerged as a result?

A lot of this work is novel globally. We are starting from zero and this always leads to more and more questions, but the key ones we are trying to answer is how to restore, and what the benefits are that come from these restorations. Some new questions that have arisen are: can we use juvenile mussels to restore sites; what aspects of the sites mean the restorations will be a success (i.e. where can we put mussels so that they will survive and also help restore the site) and how do mussels influence ecosystem services such as carbon storage.

8.  What kind of impact do you hope your research will have?

The main thing that keeps me going is being able to help the marine world and all the animals that inhabit it, which has knock-on benefits for the rest of the world.

9.  If you collaborate across the faculty or University, or even outside the University, who do you work with and how does it benefit your research?

I work with computer scientists a lot to use novel technology and techniques to quantify the benefits from shellfish reefs, which I would be unable to do otherwise. Working with researchers in politics and arts has helped me learn how to better communicate our research (always a work in progress).

10.  What one piece of advice would you give your younger, less experienced research self?

Don’t be afraid to ask for help or to ask questions and talk to the scary people (who are really just people). This is advice I am still learning to take!