Joshua Richards, 22, currently studying for a Masters in Environmental Geochemistry at the University of Bern, Switzerland.
I grew up in Collingwood, Golden Bay, a remote part of New Zealand and attended Collingwood Area School which had a roll of 120 students from Year 1 to Year 13. So not your typical secondary school!
I first became involved with Royal Society Te Apārangi during my last year of school in 2015. I was really interested and successful in science throughout NCEA Levels 1 and 2, and at the start of Year 13 my science teacher presented me with a number of exciting international science opportunities that the Society were offering. These international opportunities were quite a step up from the quiet farmland I called home and so I made it one of my goals to get selected for something and so I put together an application and sent it away.
Success! In July of 2015 I was selected as the first Kiwi to attend the International Summer Science Institute held at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Jerusalem, Israel for four weeks. This opportunity was completely funded by the Raye Freedman Trust. The Summer School brought together 80 students from many different countries around the world so that we could experience a taste of what it was like to work in a team undertaking some real science research. I worked on a project in a laboratory for three weeks before writing a paper and presenting our work to our peers and scientists.
We all stayed in dorms on campus and included in the programme were organised lecturers from professors, social nights and dinners and in the weekends, trips were organised to different parts of Israel. The last week was spent on an amazing field trip in the Judean Desert and the Negav, where expert guides showed the ecological, geographical, geological, zoological and archaeological characteristics of the region. It was a surreal experience for a New Zealand country boy: social, educational, maturing and world-view widening. My time there is one of my fondest memories that furthered my love of science and led me on a journey of pursuing science as a career. Even now I still can’t believe it happened.
In December of my final year of school I was also selected by the Society to attend Powering Potential and this brought 40 students from around the country to work in teams on a specific scientific question. This involved a lot of problem solving and working together as a team. I learnt that solving problems and science research is all about collaboration and team work.
In 2016 I started my study in Chemistry at Victoria University of Wellington. This quickly changed into a double major in Chemistry and Geology. Studying in Wellington was great fun, although I found chemistry challenging. It is a lot of hard work – but rewarding at the same time. Further down the track I realised though that my passion was definitely geology.
In my third year at VUW I went on exchange to the United States where I studied at the University of California, Santa Barbara Campus. Something I love about studying geology is that when you visit a new place you become intrinsically involved in what is happening around you: exploring amazing places, orientating yourself and getting to appreciate the environment. What an incredible time I had, camping in the Mojave Desert, hiking in Yosemite National Park and just enjoying the warmth of the sun. You appreciate science more and you realise that what you are learning translates to the same thing right across the world.
Towards the end of my Bachelor studies I began asking 'what next?' Throughout the summer of 2018-2019 I was working at Victoria University of Wellington on a summer research scholarship. The professor I was working with inspired me to look wider in my search, and encouraged me to look at opportunities outside my immediate area and not settle for a graduate programme that I wasn’t entirely happy with.
After the summer of 2018-2019 I applied to several universities across Europe and accepted an offer from the University Of Bern, Switzerland to undertake a Masters in Environmental and Resource Geochemistry. In July 2019 I packed my bags and headed to Europe and this is where I am now.
The University of Bern is great and the scope and breadth of the study offered to me is extensive. My thesis is focusing on mineral precipitation and scaling in geothermal systems both in Switzerland and Iceland. Understanding and minimising these processes helps increase the efficiency of this renewable source of energy. As someone that cares deeply about the environment it was important for me to do something meaningful and productive in my research and so I am extremely happy!
At present I don’t have any definite plans for the future but I am open to anything or anywhere. It is very important to me that I want to make a difference in this world. In the last three or so years I have jumped at opportunities without giving much thought to the risks or consequences. I have never had a bad experience but really thinking about big decisions has enabled me to grow as a person and the experience I have gained has been invaluable, even if it has been a bit scary at times.
I encourage everyone to look far and wide and if you really want to do something then just do it! Seek out people for advice and guidance. It still amazes me to think that just five years ago I was a student in a small country school, and without the help of great mentors I would not be in the position I am today.