NMIT graduate trades houses for husbandry

NMIT graduate trades houses for husbandry

Liam Hegarty is a qualified culture and husbandry technician working for Plant and Food Research in Nelson. One of his primary roles is rearing marine fin fish from fertilisation to larvae.

A change in direction led to Liam enrolling on the Diploma in Aquaculture (Fish Farming and Fishery Management) at NMIT. Liam, along with his wife and their 14-year-old daughter moved to Nelson in 2009 from Auckland where Liam had enjoyed a successful career as a property valuer.

After the birth of their ‘surprise’ second child, Liam became a stay-at-home dad. In 2011, Liam decided it was time to rejoin the workforce but first he needed to upskill. “I wanted to do something different. Aquaculture always had a strong industry in the region and I always had an interest in marine science, so yeah!” 

For the next two years, Liam would drop his son, then a toddler, off at Campus Corner Early Learning Centre(external link). He’d walk a handy 100 metres or so to the Aquaculture department for four days per week, 9am to 3pm. “If I had any difficulties there was flexibility there which was good, not that I needed it really. It worked well.” 

Liam now works at Plant and Food in Akersten Street, Nelson, as an aquaculture technician. A good part of his day is spent raising hundreds of millions of rotifers for use in aquaculture. He also rears fin fish from egg fertilisation through to larvae development and then larvae through to bigger fish. “Rearing fish is quite exciting. Taking a fertilised egg through to thousands of little fish is quite cool.” 

The 51-year-old loves being involved in research and development. “I’ve moved into the microbiology side a little bit and the whole accelerated breeding aspect is fascinating too.” He is also enamoured with the work of his colleagues and loves Plant and Food as an institute. “Plant and Food has been excellent. One thing they are very good at is supporting and encouraging innovation. There’s some pretty talented people working here.” 

The journey from mature student to aquaculture technician involved a degree of vulnerability. At 46, Liam wondered if his brain would be able to handle training in a scientific field, but he needn’t have worried. 

“One of my tutors commented early on that people who are more mature students find chemistry and biology a lot easier with a bit more life experience than you do as a 15 to 18 year old at school. I found that quite true. I didn’t find it easy but I found it easier than I thought initially.” 

Liam enjoyed his time at NMIT more than he did the first time round, as a school leaver studying for a property degree at Auckland University. The thought of lectures and tutors and marks wasn’t a big scary thing anymore.

“I suppose you do have a different mindset. When you’re young, learning is all about ‘what do I need to know to pass’ and producing what you think will get you a good grade. Whereas as a mature student you’re more concerned with independent thought. It’s not about rote learning, it’s about making you think.” 

Most programmes at NMIT encourage work placements and Aquaculture was no different. Liam completed a number of two-week work placements including one at Cawthron Institute, one with Niwa Bream Bay in Northland and the remaining two with Plant and Food. When he graduated, Liam spent six months as a temp with Plant and Food eventually landing a full time permanent role. 

Liam didn’t go into the programme with a predetermined path at the end. He credits his work placement opportunities for helping him discover his future career. “Fish and Game is one of the possible placements and some people may do all their placements there. Whereas, if salmon production is your passion a lot of people can do all four placements at King Salmon. I discovered my future was more in research and development.” 

With so many possible directions Liam could have gone in, it’s fantastic that he found his niche in R&D for the aquaculture industry. “When we lived in Marlborough I worked on the vineyards a bit and enjoyed doing something practical after valuation which is quite technical. I enjoyed growing something and being practical. Aquaculture felt like an extension of that. Dealing with living things in an industry that is sustainable.” 

To anyone wishing to study aquaculture at NMIT Liam says: “I think it gives a very good grounding. Mark [aquaculture tutor] and the others are very conscious of sending out people who have a good rounded introduction to the industry and practical knowledge, which I thought was quite sensible at the time and they do it very well. Looking back now I think it is a great approach.”

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