It was Nicola Gujer’s high school careers advisor who suggested Physics as the best science option to take for someone who likes maths.
Career: Business analyst, Vista Entertainment Solutions.
Programme: Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Physics.
It turned out that this advice was just right for Nicola.
“I had always enjoyed solving problems and trying to figure out the ways things worked, so I found that I really enjoyed my undergraduate Physics courses,” she says.
“When it came to deciding what I was going to do after finishing my bachelor’s programme, I was initially unsure, but after encouragement from some of the staff and other postgraduate students in the Physics department, I decided to enrol in an honours programme - and I am so glad they convinced me to consider it!”
Reflecting on her time as a Physics student, Nicola says one of the things she enjoyed most was the extra opportunities that came her way, such as being part of the MOTAT Science Street Fair.
“It was one of my favourite events of the year. It is a day in the weekend when the Faculty of Science [along with other organisations and volunteers] set up a whole lot of stalls at MOTAT and run activities for families to participate in and learn about science.
“I helped out on the astronomy and astrophysics stall where I taught a few hundred kids and their parents about the scale of the solar system and how far apart the planets are.”
Nicola knew when she first started studying Physics that she was unlikely to use the knowledge she gained directly unless she went on to enrol in postgraduate studies. So she looked for jobs where she could utilise the skills she had gained, such as critical thinking and how to collaborate with people across different disciplines.
“One of the most useful skills I have gained from studying physics is the ability to approach a problem from different angles,” Nicola says.
“The path to the answer you require is not necessarily tackling a problem head-on, often you require extra information before you get to the final answer. To do this, you need to be able to step back and fully formulate the problem in your mind and assess what the best option is going to be.”
Another skill she developed, particularly during her postgraduate studies, was the ability to work well with others.
“My supervisor once told me, most of science involves working and collaborating with others, and the ability to effectively communicate with people and maintain relationships is an extremely important part of any scientific endeavour.”
Nicola also appreciated how the Physics department works hard to achieve and maintain equality.
“The courses I chose to study do not usually have a lot of other females and it has made a huge difference studying in a department that actively works to make sure that I feel like I belong there, and that they are working to change the gender stereotypes,” she says.
After completing her degree, Nicola initially worked on a short-term project, which involved collaborating on an interactive data visualisation focused around the housing crisis in New Zealand, called 'Unsettled', which was published by The Spinoff.
“I helped collect and clean the data, and develop some of the data visualisations,” she explains. “This project came along at a perfect time, as I had always been passionate about data visualisation and communication and I was in an ideal situation to be able to commit to it full-time until the publication date.”
Shortly after starting work on 'Unsettled', Nicola was also offered a job as a software services consultant with Vista Entertainment Solutions (the world leading cinema management software company, serving the film industry with installations in over 100 countries).
“I accepted the offer and I’m still working here,” she says - although her role has rapidly changed from being a software services consultant, to becoming a services analyst, before being promoted to a business analyst.
“I love my job because I get to work with technology and - with head offices in seven locations around the world - I have frequent opportunities to interact with many people from different backgrounds. The possibility of travel for work isn’t a bad thing either!”
Nicola says one of the main things she wanted out of a job was variety, “I never wanted it to be the same every day”. Luckily hers is a dynamic industry where things are always changing and updating, so there is no chance of boredom setting in.
“The customer comes to us with an issue or an idea, and it is my job to help them figure out a way to get that working,” she explains. “Often that involves a lot of thinking outside of the box and a fair amount of experimentation."
If you are considering Physics as an option, Nicola’s advice is to definitely give it a go!
“Physics can surprisingly appear in many different career paths, and I believe that being a physics graduate is a huge plus on your CV to make you stand out from other applicants.”