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Otago academics made full professor

Clocktower from the Leith

Friday 3 December 2010 9:32am

Eleven leading University of Otago academics are to be promoted to full professorships.

Otago’s new professors are: Robert Aldred (Mathematics and Statistics); Tony Ballantyne (History); Margaret Baird (Microbiology and Immunology); Ewan Fordyce (Geology); Andrew Geddis (Law); Murray Rae (Theology and Religion); Sarah Romans (Psychological Medicine, Wellington); Richard Walter (Anthropology, Gender and Sociology); Vernon Ward (Microbiology and Immunology); Mark Weatherall (Medicine, Wellington) and Elisabeth Wells, who becomes a Research Professor (Public Health and General Practice, Christchurch).

Announcing the promotions, Vice-Chancellor Professor David Skegg said that appointments as professor at Otago require candidates to undergo a very rigorous selection process that includes advice from international experts.

“The success of these candidates reflects their exceptional and sustained contributions as leaders in their fields of research and teaching. I warmly congratulate them on their well-earned promotions and wish them well in their continuing pursuit of academic excellence,” Professor Skegg says.

Another 21 Otago academics are being promoted to Associate Professor (see below for list). All of these promotions take effect from 1 February 2011.

Robert Aldred (Department of Mathematics and Statistics)

Robert Aldred’s area of expertise is Discrete Mathematics, primarily Graph Theory, which is the study of general abstract incidence structures consisting of vertices (objects of interest) and edges (relations between objects). While these “graphs” offer a framework suitable for modelling a multitude of applications from process scheduling to Phylogenetics and even Quantum Physics, his focus has been the properties of the abstract graphs themselves. Working with leading mathematicians around the world he has produced more than 80 scientific publications including ground-breaking results on the fundamental structural properties of graphs. In some cases these have resolved problems that remained unsolved for more than 20 years from the time they were first posed.

Tony Ballantyne (Department of History)

Tony Ballantyne’s research focuses on the cultural history of the British Empire during the nineteenth century. His work has focused on the fierce debates over linguistic, religious and racial difference that shaped British imperial culture as British colonists attempted to exert their authority over an ever growing range of colonised communities. He has also played a leading role in developing an approach to imperial history that explores the importance of connections and exchanges between the colonies: in his case, he has particularly highlighted the importance of British India in shaping understandings of the Pacific. His recent work largely focuses on the history of colonial Otago in a broad global context.

Margaret Baird (Department of Microbiology and Immunology)

Margaret Baird’s research focuses on the dendritic cell, the cell that determines whether or not the immune system will react against foreign material entering the body. These cells are present in virtually every tissue of the body. She is investigating ways to ensure that they ‘turn on’ an immune response to a tumour vaccine comprising empty shells from rabbit calicivirus. She is also investigating their role in ‘turning off’ the response to harmless microbes living in the gut.

Ewan Fordyce (Department of Geology)

Ewan Fordyce is a palaeontologist who works on fossil vertebrates (backboned animals), mainly from New Zealand. He searches for and collects fossils from the field: fish, marine reptiles, penguins, and especially dolphins and whales. Laboratory studies of these fossils help to understand relationships and lifestyles, and sometimes the origin, of living species. He describes discovering and naming new species as a real thrill. The research has led to international links: a Research Associateship at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C., and collaborative studies on molecular relationships of modern penguins and dolphins, and on the biology of living dolphins and whales. He is currently the Head of the Department of Geology.

Andrew Geddis (Faculty of Law)

Andrew Geddis’ research focus is public and constitutional law, especially matters relating to electoral law and the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act. He is the author of Electoral Law in New Zealand: Practice and Policy, as well as numerous articles in New Zealand and international journals. His work has been cited in New Zealand’s Supreme Court and the United Kingdom’s House of Lords. He is a member of the Legislation Advisory Committee, and has provided advice on several occasions to Parliament’s Justice and Electoral Committee, Electoral Legislation Committee and Privileges Committee. He also is a regular contributor to the opinion pages of the country’s newspapers.

Murray Rae (Department of Theology and Religion)

Murray Rae is a theologian whose varied research interests include theological ethics, theology and architecture, and the theological interpretation of Christian scripture. His ethical interests have focused on Christian responses to war, crime and violence, and to the challenges of dealing with past injustice, notably the illegal confiscations of Maori land. He co-leads a research group on Maori engagements with Christianity and another on theology and architecture. His principal area of research, however, has been the work of the nineteenth-century Danish theologian, Søren Kierkegaard. His second book on Kierkegaard's theology was published earlier this year. He is currently Head of the Department of Theology and Religion.

Sarah Romans (Department of Psychological Medicine, University of Otago, Wellington)

Sarah Romans is an academic social psychiatrist recently returned to the University of Otago from the University of Toronto, where she held a chair in Women’s Mental Health Research. Before that she held the Hazel Buckland Chair in Psychological Medicine at the Dunedin School of Medicine. Sarah’s research interests are in psychiatric epidemiology and women’s mental health. In Canada, she investigated gender differences in depressive symptoms, psychopharmacological treatments, urban-rural patterns of depression and anxiety, crying, and with colleagues there produced a series of publications on the epidemiological patterns of domestic violence and its management. She is currently analysing data examining how women’s moods are linked to the menstrual cycle and has begun some sleep research with patients in Wellington.

Richard Walter (Department of Anthropology, Gender and Sociology)

Richard Walter is an archaeologist specialising in the prehistoric archaeology of New Zealand and the islands of the South Pacific. His PhD research looked at the nature and chronology of Polynesian colonisation drawing on data from excavations in the Cook Islands. In the mid-1990s his research shifted to the Solomon Islands and was directed towards the origins of Melanesian cultural diversity, with an emphasis on the archaeology of head-hunting cults and ritual violence. For the past five years Richard has worked in New Zealand where he directs The First Hundred Years Project, a study of New Zealand’s earliest settlement phase. Richard is a full-time academic in the Department of Anthropology and a Director of Southern Pacific Archaeological Research, a University-based research and consulting unit.

Vernon Ward (Department of Microbiology and Immunology)

Vernon Ward’s research interests include the study of caliciviruses and insect viruses. His research includes bioengineering of non-infectious virus-like shells derived from Rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus as carriers of antigens to the immune system for applications such as cancer immunotherapy. The assembly of virus shells involves using insect viruses as protein production systems. This is underpinned by studies into the biology and use of insect viruses for protein production and insect biocontrol. He also undertakes fundamental research on noroviruses — caliciviruses that cause gastrointestinal illness — investigating the response of the host cell to infection and elucidating the function of viral proteins in virus replication.

Mark Weatherall (Department of Medicine, University of Otago, Wellington)

Mark Weatherall has been in the academic Department of Medicine at the University of Otago, Wellington, for 13 years with a clinical specialty of geriatric medicine as well as an applied statistics background. His research interests include treatment and rehabilitation of chronic diseases and disorders that particularly affect older adults, such as stroke, chronic obstructive lung disease, hip fracture, and urinary incontinence. Publications include systematic reviews and meta-analyses, randomised controlled trials, and the use of statistical techniques to better understand large collections of data about individuals with these health conditions. At the Wellington campus he teaches undergraduate medicine and elements of the Postgraduate Diploma in Rehabilitation programme.

Elisabeth Wells (Department of Public Health and General Practice, University of Otago, Christchurch)

Over the past 30 years as a consulting biostatistician Elisabeth Wells has been involved with many different areas of health research. Her own research has been in psychiatric epidemiology. She has been a co-principal investigator on two community surveys, the Christchurch Psychiatric Epidemiology Study (1986) and then the New Zealand Mental Health Survey (Te Rau Hinengaro, 2003-4), and collaborated with the Christchurch Health and Development Study when participants were in late adolescence and early adulthood. In these studies, and through international collaborations with other similar studies, she has investigated the onset and prevalence of mental disorder, particularly alcohol and drug problems and disorders.

Promotions to Associate Professor:

  • Randall Allardyce (Surgery, Christchurch)
  • Margaret Briggs (Law)
  • Annabel Cooper (Anthropology, Gender & Sociology)
  • John Dockerty (Preventive and Social Medicine)
  • Steven Kerr (Pharmacology & Toxicology)
  • Alexander McLellan (Microbiology and Immunology)
  • Alister Neill (Medicine, Wellington)
  • Wendy Parkins (English)
  • Charles Pigden (Philosophy)
  • Michael Robertson (Law)
  • Craig Rodger (Physics)
  • Nancy Tayles (Anatomy and Structural Biology)
  • Maree Thyne (Marketing)
  • Darryl Tong (Oral Diagnostic & Surgical Sciences)
  • Sarah Wakes (Design Studies)
  • Lisa Warrington (Theatre Studies)
  • Esko Wiltshire (Paediatrics & Child Health, Wellington)

Clinical Associate Professor:

  • Nicola Austin (Paediatrics, Christchurch)

Research Associate Professor:

  • Stephen Moratti (Chemistry)
  • Robert Siebers (Medicine, Wellington)
  • Rachael Taylor (Medical and Surgical Sciences)

A list of Otago experts available for media comment is available elsewhere on this website.

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