Fern & Rose meets: Rachael Peart
Fifteen years after completing her PhD in marine science, Rachael Peart found her perfect role. The catch? It involved moving her family from New South Wales to New Zealand. Rachael talks about making the hop across the ditch, how her family have adjusted to life in Wellington and why a job with NIWA was too good an opportunity to miss.
Fern & Rose (F&R): Hello Rachael! Tell me about your work and family.
Rachael Peart (RP): I’m a marine biologist at the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) in Wellington, New Zealand. I’ve worked there since September 2016. I have three kids; Lily who’s 8, Harry who’s 13 and Oliver who’s 15.
This is the first time I’ve worked full time since having kids. Until now, my husband Jonathan has been the one working full time. I finished my PhD when I was pregnant with Oliver. I published papers in my own time and did contract work in between kids so I kept my finger in the science pot, so to speak.
My area of marine science is small crustaceans. When you’re on the beach and you turn over the seaweed and things jump everywhere, they’re amphipods. They’re the main group I work on.
There aren’t many marine science jobs around, so when this one came up, I decided to apply. I was a bit surprised to get the interview, never mind the job! Even though I hadn’t worked full time in the field, NIWA took into account the papers I’d published and the part time work I’d been doing while having my kids. A lot of workplaces wouldn’t do that I suspect.
This role is pretty much a dream job. I get to spend most of my time on my own research, looking at different species of amphipods, describing new species and working out how they interact with their environment.
F&R: What was it like moving to Wellington?
RP: We were living in Armidale, New South Wales – about six hours north west of Sydney. Jonathan’s a minister and was working at one of the churches there full time and I was working at the university. The boys had moved schools a few times; we’d been in Sydney before that. But when we decided to move here, of course I’d ruined my children’s lives! It was really hard for them to move countries and to realise that it was a permanent move for a permanent job. We even bought a house, which was a little bit grown up!
I’d felt very isolated in Armidale. I wasn’t happy there. All of our close friends were in Sydney. So for me, there were a lot of reasons to move. It was a big decision for Jonathan to give up a full time job where he was just getting into his stride. But the fact that he said yep, let’s do this, because it’s going to be your one chance to work full time in this job – that meant a huge amount to me because he values what I do.
It was very easy to move here. We got off the plane and I started working. No visas. Nothing. The logistics of moving were very easy, just because it was so close. Just things like phone companies offering contracts with free calls and texts to New Zealand and Australia make it easier as I can keep in touch with family for free in the same way as I did before.
It’s a juggle with kids, but they’ve adjusted well. Lily coped the best. She’s an extrovert and she saw it as a whole new country of people to talk to! She loves it. They all love it. They love the hills. Harry’s my adventure kid; he wants to go rock climbing and scuba diving. And Oliver has found his people, too. The benefit of the world being so close digitally is they’re in touch with friends in Australia all the time.
F&R: How have things changed for you as a parent over the years?
RP: My big shock was finding out children have different personalities apparently! My eldest, Oliver, was my compliant child! He had really early language skills and so I used to chat to him about everything. When Harry came along, he didn’t sleep, he climbed at seven months and walked at 10 months. He was a physical kid. I hadn’t realised I’d need different parenting skills for different kids. I just thought, you parent. This is what you do. This is what works for this child; it has to work for that child. But it doesn’t.
So I found the differences between my children, especially the two boys, was the most significant thing I had to get my brain around. With Oliver, I can talk things over with him and he goes ok, that’s a logical way of doing things. With Harry, I need to give him a hug and physically make contact before we can talk about something. He’s a physical, visual kid. I used to give him bits of paper and pens to draw when he was feeling upset, whereas Oliver will write things down. And then Lily’s a whole different kettle of fish again!
I found it really hard to work consistently when my kids were really little. I had postnatal depression with all three. Just getting out of the house each day was hard enough. Going straight from doing a PhD to suddenly being a stay-at-home mum was a big change of mental pace. You’re dealing with nappies, feeding, kids having issues – whereas when you’re doing your PhD, they’re all your issues! You become very inwardly focused doing a PhD, but with kids it’s all outward focus. It’s a really big mental shift. But I did work part time in various roles. When Oliver and Harry were little, I shared a babysitter with a friend. We both went to work that day and the kids played together. It was a lifesaver.
It’s hard work, but I hang on to the beautiful moments. For example, Oliver, who’s 15, will give me a hug at the bus stop on the way to school, or will say ‘I love you mum’ in front of all his school friends. Those are the precious times.
F&R: What advice would you give to new parents?
RP: Get out of the house and go for a walk. Get some mental space. It’s easy to go down the rabbit hole of parenting so seeing the bigger picture is really good.
F&R: How would you describe your life in just one word?
RP: Fireworks. Because it can start at a little point and then expand into all sorts of different colours that you didn’t expect!