Heather Braid

Heather Braid

Research Fellow, AUT
Doctor of Philosophy
Master of Applied Science

How many people get to name a newly discovered species after their long-time hero? For AUT science alumna Heather Braid, this dream has become reality.

“When I was in secondary school, I read an article about Steve O’Shea, the squid hunter. And in that very moment I knew what I was going to do with the rest of my life. A few years later, when I was doing my master’s degree, I was researching the systematics of the squid family Mastigoteuthidae and found a new species. I got to name it after my hero Steve O’Shea, so it got the name Magnoteuthis osheai.”

There’s something romantic about doing science in the same way scientists have for over a hundred years, says Heather who studied marine biology in her native Canada before coming to AUT for postgraduate study.

“I’ve always liked the idea of taxonomy – finding new species and naming things. There are very few places to do this type of research, and AUT has the highest concentration of squid taxonomists in the world, in a country that has one of the highest biodiversities of squid and octopus. Our lab has actually found over a dozen new squid species.”

Research that matters
For her doctoral research, Heather continued her work on squid biodiversity, supported by an AUT Vice-Chancellor’s Doctoral Scholarship.

“Taxonomy is necessary for all other research, especially ecology and conservation. Scientists have to know what species they’re working with to be able to do anything. For my thesis, I used integrative taxonomy to study a few obscure squid families, which are highly abundant in the ocean but not well studied. This research will help improve our understanding of cephalopods here in New Zealand, and globally.”

While she had originally planned to return to Canada for her PhD, Heather decided to stay at AUT because she had found the perfect supervisor.

“As a postgraduate student, it’s essential to find a good supervisor, one that is right for you. Dr Kat Bolstad was the best possible supervisor for me. She’s patient, gives me reassurance when I need it, and proofreads exceptionally well. We work well together, and we do some pretty cool research. I couldn’t imagine doing my PhD at any other university.”

A passionate community of researchers
She had amazing opportunities throughout her studies, Heather says.

“Through my research, I’ve worked extensively with the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research Ltd (NIWA), and one of the best experiences for me was going out on the NIWA research vessel Tangaroa, and being able to collect some really exciting specimens. We also work with the National Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, which has an amazing collection of cephalopods.”

Being part of the AUT Lab for Cephalopod Ecology & Systematics (ALCES) is another highlight for Heather.

“ALCES is made up of a really good group of researchers. We travel all over the world to collections and conferences, and participate in amazing live broadcasts of rather large squid dissections. That’s the kind of research I had been hoping to do when I was still in high school and dreaming about the future.”

*The Master of Applied Science is now called Master of Science