Shaun Williams -  USP Alumni Network

Name: Shaun Williams

Country: Samoa

Programme: Bachelor of Science

Why did you choose your field of study?

Towards my final high school years I was very interested in learning more about how the earth worked and where and how people fitted within the earth system. USP’s BSc programme in Earth Sciences and Geography provided a platform for me to achieve this through an NZAID scholarship award. This enabled me to pursue a career in geosciences.

Briefly reflect on your student life at USP?
This is best summarized by the following expressions:
•    Great times
•    Great people
•    Great cultural diversity
•    Relevant and focused curricular
•    Important challenges, choices and decisions
•    Life-long relationships and learning experiences
•    Helped shape who I am today

Greatest achievement[s] as a student
My greatest student achievements at USP were the receipt of:
•    Gold medal for most outstanding student in Geography.
•    NZAID Science Trophy for top NZAID funded science student at USP.

Career Highlights since Graduation
Particular career highlights which have helped shape who I am professionally and where I am in life today include:
•    2004 – 2007: Serving as a Scientist (Climate and Geophysics) at the Samoa Meteorological Services.
•    2006 Samoan visitor for the US Internal Visitor Leadership Programme.
•    2007 NZAID scholarship to pursue an MSc at the University of Canterbury.
•    2009 MSc (First Class Honours) award in Hazard and Disaster Management from the University of Canterbury NZ.
•    2010 NZ Fulbright Fellow as Visiting Graduate Researcher at the University of Hawaii in 2011.
•    2011 Visiting Student Investigator at Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation via an Australian Institute of Nuclear Sciences and Engineering Grant.
•    2014 NZ Claude McCarthy Fellow at the World Landslide Forum 3 in Beijing.
•    2014 PhD award in Hazard and Disaster Management from the University of Canterbury NZ.
•    2015 – Present: Serving as a Scientist (Hazard Analyst) at National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA).

Who/what do you credit your success to? What inspires you?
This is best reflected by:
•    Support, mentorship and encouragement by family, friends and colleagues.
•    Motivation to contribute to domestic and international resilience and success.
•    Working hard; persistence; viewing failures as learning opportunities; asking questions when required; openness to learn and acknowledge self weaknesses; respect for differing world views; respect for differing cultures; respect for people and varying opinions; willingness to network and engage in collaborative partnerships; Confidence and belief that the work I do is important not only for myself.

How do you think USP helped you in your career?
Achieving a BSc award helped underpin the line of work I would pursue a career in. Further, my personal and academic experiences at USP and the lessons I learned throughout my time there still resonate in my thoughts today.

Describe any challenges you face to reach where you are today and how you overcame those challenges?
This is a tough question as there will always be challenges associated with the choices one makes in life. To keep it general, perhaps the best advice I can give is that I embraced challenges associated with my life choices and viewed them as opportunities to grow and develop. As a Pacific Islander it was very easy to view failures, or times which we fall or stray from our destined path, purely as failures which cause shame and deserve to be tucked away from thought and dialogue.  However, I accepted that failures are challenges in life which provide opportunities to learn and establish paths to overcome them. Not all challenges can be overcome quite so readily and quite frankly, require us to seek alternative paths. I find that reflection, rethinking and refining my approaches to reaching my goals provides clarity of mind and boosts my confidence and morale in giving it another go. As the common saying somewhat goes: if you try and fail the first time, try again with a modified approach!  

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Professionally: In 10 years, I see myself as having established a successful scientific career up to that date and am serving in a senior scientific or management role.
Personally: In 10 years, I see myself enjoying what I do and the personal and professional relationships I have at that time, and living happily and content with my choices in life.

What advice would you give to current and future students of USP?
General advice would be:
•    Don’t lose focus of why you are there and the motivation behind what you want to do and achieve in life.
•    Identify and acknowledge your strengths and weaknesses, and don’t be shy to ask questions or ask for help when you need to or when you don’t know something.
•    Work hard, honestly and respectfully.
•    Nurture and be thankful for the relationships you’ve established or are building with colleagues and friends.
•    Remember that everyone falls at some point, and that it really is up to each person to choose to stand back up. View failures or challenges as opportunities to learn from and grow resilience.
•    Life is too short, so make sure to have fun and enjoy what you do academically and personally in a safe, responsible and healthy fashion.

Please share top three tips that you think are most important for our current students or recent graduates that will help them when starting out on their career paths.
•    Remember that we don’t always get what we want, so keep this into perspective if your job straight after graduation is not what you perceive your ‘ideal’ career choice to be. Take myself for example; I never envisaged my first job after graduation to be at the Samoa Meteorological Services. But it was, and I enjoyed it. My time spent there and the experience I gained largely influenced the direction I took career-wise. It is difficult for each and all of us to know exactly where we see ourselves immediately after graduation or even in 10 or 20 years. But perhaps it is worth viewing every opportunity as a stepping stone to heading in the direction you would like to go, and the experience you will gain from every opportunity takes you a step closer to achieving your goals.
•    Build your network and nurture the relationships that you establish. We typically hear that getting ahead in life or career is about “who you know, not what you know”. I believe that both are essential. That is, what you know is important, and who you know helps to shape you as a person and direction in which what you know can be of use, including the disciplines you choose to apply your skills and outcomes you seek to achieve.
•    Set your goals or have an idea of what you want to strive for. Don’t be scared to dream big. Dreams are free. However, setting realistic goals is challenging. Set your goals, be flexible with what life throws your way and refine your goals accordingly. Importantly, don’t lose sight of your goals. Remember that good things take time and effort to achieve and that the ultimate critic of your choices, in the end, is yourself.

What has your involvement been with the University since you graduated?
I am a member of the USP Alumni, and I still maintain contact with colleagues at USP including active working relationships with fellow USP Alumni. In future, I would like to develop and engage in more nourishing research collaborations involving USP.  

Any other information you would like to share.
Always remember to maintain a healthy work-life balance. This goes a long way to ensuring your own self-fulfillment.

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