When deciding where to study, Luke Gardener was determined to balance his academic life with a whole lot of outdoor adventuring. Otago was the obvious choice with easy access to mountains, surfing beaches and rock climbing crags.
Luke completed a Bachelor of Arts with majors in History and Politics before undertaking honours study. He then took a break from study to work for DOC on a number of offshore islands, culminating in a six-month stint on Raoul island, until he “escaped” on a passing ship.
“I literally had to barter passage on a passing boat – after that I was ready to head back to Otago to complete my Master of Arts.
“I wouldn’t have studied anywhere elsewhere in New Zealand. I was taught by people who had previously held roles in governments, including the ex-foreign affairs minister of Afghanistan, and academics who are internationally renowned for their work. Otago is a great place to study.”
“One of the things that really helped me later was getting involved in clubs. I was quite involved with the Yellow-Eyed Penguin Trust, and the University of Otago Tramping Club. I got a trip to the Sub-Antarctic, but also a whole lot of skills such as governance experience. You have to jump at those opportunities.”
Halfway through his Maters, Luke thought he had better start looking for a job and saw an advert for MPI.
“They did a lot of biosecurity stuff, and given my background with DOC I thought it could be quite relevant. I did my research about the company, and how my experience would fit – having a really tailored cover letter got me into the organisation, and something I would suggest to any graduate applying for a role; do your research.”
Luke now works as part of MPI’s Graduate Development Programme, which is 18 months long and involves three six-month rotations.
“My first rotation was in biosecurity policy as an analyst, which was really interesting. We provided the government with sound advice so that they can make informed policy decisions.”
“I got a whole range of experience in that first six months. For example, I helped get new legislation passed covering ballast water. It doesn’t sound very exciting but it is a very important tool for fighting biosecurity incursions in the marine space.
“I also got to go to a whole lot of select committees to provide evidence as part of an MPI delegation. It was exciting to be at the centre of government and see that process.
“What I discovered is that I struggle to be behind a desk for eight hours a day looking at a computer screen. The best thing about the graduate programme is six-months later you can try something else. Now I’m just starting a new rotation doing biosecurity response work, so hopefully I will get out into the field.”
Luke’s advice to current students?
“Employers are really interested in those ‘soft’ skills, they want people with communication skills and life experience. So, do an exchange and get involved in the leadership of a club. I’d also suggest learning basic te reo and have an understanding of the treaty, particularly if you want to work in the public sector.”