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Carl Smith Medal awarded to rising Otago researchers

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Thursday 25 June 2015 11:54am

Jessica Palmer image
Associate Professor Jessica Palmer (Faculty of Law)

Two up-and-coming University of Otago researchers are the latest recipients of the Carl Smith Medal and Rowheath Trust Award.

Associate Professor Jessica Palmer (Faculty of Law) and Associate Professor Suetonia Palmer (Department of Medicine, Christchurch) are co-recipients of the Award and Medal which recognise outstanding research performance of early-career staff at Otago and are accompanied by a $5000 grant for personal scholarly development.

Announcing the honours, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Richard Blaikie warmly congratulated both researchers saying the pair had already made important international contributions to their respective disciplines.

“Both Jessica and Suetonia have outstanding records of scholarly achievement and are richly deserving of this recognition. Their research accomplishments, academic and professional contributions are seen as truly world class.

“The international referees highlighted the impacts that the research findings of Jessica and Suetonia have made on the practice of Law and Medicine respectively, and the assessment committee was compelled to make a joint award. They are outstanding examples of the calibre of translational research being undertaken at Otago.”

Dr Suetonia Palmer image
Associate Professor Suetonia Palmer (Department of Medicine, Christchurch)

Jessica Palmer’s research primarily focuses on the areas of trusts and restitution. Trusts being very popular in New Zealand, her innovative work has been influential on the development of trust law in this country and is regularly cited by the courts.

While Jessica is as yet unsure how she will allocate the award money, the former recipient of the Law Foundation’s Ethel Benjamin Scholarship, says she feels “very lucky to be acknowledged in this way”.

“This award is a strong vote of encouragement from the University that the work I am doing is worthwhile and that I am doing it well. Otago is a wonderful place to teach and research and I know that I have benefitted from many discussions with colleagues, students and visitors that have helped to develop my thinking and direct my research enquiries.

“I am also grateful for the support I have had to develop relationships with academics from other universities in New Zealand and internationally which has been crucial to progressing my research.”

Suetonia Palmer is a kidney specialist and Rutherford Discovery Fellow, who is interested in evaluating whether medicines are effective. Her particular research focus is in applying meta-analysis (the mathematics of combining research studies together) to study the evidence behind treatments used for people with kidney disease, which has previously awarded her a L’Oréal UNESCO For Women in Science Fellowship.

Of receiving the award, she says: “I feel much honoured, particularly given the high standard of research done by many outstanding researchers at the University. It is also gratifying to see recognition for the usefulness of meta-analysis in clinical medicine.

“This award will allow me to spend more time with my international collaborators to generate more research ideas and strengthen connections.”

The two researchers will each give public lectures later this year, at which they will be presented with the Medal.

The Rowheath Trust was established in 1964 by Carl Smith – whose family lived in the Rowheath area of England – to support the University. Mr Smith received an honorary doctorate from Otago in 1968.

Associate Professor Jessica Palmer

Jessica Palmer is an Associate Professor in the Law Faculty and teaches courses in contract, equity and commercial law. She is a graduate of Auckland and Cambridge. She was a Judges’ clerk in the High Court in Auckland and worked in a national corporate law firm before coming to Otago.

Much of Jessica's recent research has been in trust law. She was a member of the New Zealand Law Commission’s reference panel for its recent review of the law of trusts. This is a major review undertaken at the request of the Government to reform trust law and respond to the general discontent of many New Zealanders with the apparent widespread abuse of trust structures.

Trusts are very popular in New Zealand and are widely used by people to protect their home and other assets from claims by creditors, spouses or partners, and from the State’s means test for state subsidies. Trusts are normally discretionary in nature, which allows the settlors who created the trusts to hold themselves out as not having any beneficial interest in the trust assets. Yet, at the same time they give themselves significant powers to control the trust for their own benefit.

Not surprisingly, these trusts are coming under increasing scrutiny. Any avenues used by the courts or Parliament to set aside or look through trusts demand close attention because of the potentially far reaching consequences they have for the traditional understanding of the trust. Jessica has written on the rights of beneficiaries and on the avenues available to creditors, spouses and partners to access the property held in these trusts.

Her work is cited regularly by courts and has been influential on the development of the law in relation to sham trusts and the control of express trusts. For example, her writing was relied on by the New Zealand Court of Appeal in cases that have attracted much attention for trust and matrimonial property lawyers (Clayton v Clayton [2015] NZCA 30; Official Assignee v Wilson [2008] NZLR 45). A Court of Appeal judge has cited her work as an example of the important contribution that academic lawyers can make to the development of law (G Hammond, “Judges and Academics in New Zealand” (2013) 25 NZ Universities Law Review 681 at 690).

Jessica is an author in two leading textbooks in New Zealand on the law of trusts and on civil remedies (A Butler (ed) Equity and Trusts in New Zealand (2nd ed) Wellington, Thomson Reuters (2009; P Blanchard (ed) Civil Remedies in New Zealand (2nd ed) Wellington, Thomson Reuters (2011)). She is also a contributing editor to the New Zealand Law Review on equity and restitution.

Associate Professor Suetonia Palmer

Suetonia Palmer is an Associate Professor and kidney specialist who is based in the Department of Medicine at the University of Otago, Christchurch. After qualifying as a doctor and specialist in 2005, she completed a PhD before attending Harvard Medical School as a post-doctoral fellow. Since returning to New Zealand and joining the University of Otago in 2011, she has conducted research within a large international collaboration.

Her significant contribution includes applying complex meta-analysis techniques to medical treatments to discover whether drugs are effective. The combining of hundreds of drug trials together to provide greater power to detect side-effects and even evaluate treatments against placebo when these trials have not been extensively available, have led to definitive summaries of the evidence for doctors and policy-makers.

The research has identified that many widely prescribed treatments have little evidence to support their use and some are not demonstrably better than receiving no treatment. These findings have been published in the world’s leading medical journals including the Lancet, JAMA, PLoS Medicine, and the Annals of Internal Medicine and informed global policy and clinical guidelines for medical practice. Suetonia also works as a clinical kidney specialist at Christchurch Hospital.

In 2012 she was the first New Zealand woman to receive a L’Oréal Australia and New Zealand For Women in Science Fellowship and is currently a Rutherford Discovery Fellow (2014-2019) awarded by the Royal Society. She was a 2013 recipient of the University’s Early Career Award for Distinction in Research. She attributes her research achievements to the dedicated and talented colleagues who she works with around the world.

For further information, contact:

Kim Connelly
Communications Adviser
University of Otago
Tel 03 479 5010

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