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Prestigious Rutherford Fellowships for Otago researchers

The Clocktowers clock

Tuesday 1 October 2013 1:51pm

Two leading early to mid-career researchers at the University of Otago have just gained highly sought-after fellowships to help them develop their research careers in New Zealand.

Rutherford Discovery Fellowships valued at $800,000 over five years have been awarded to Otago’s Dr Suetonia Palmer (Medicine, Christchurch) for research entitled: “Improving evidence for decision-makers in chronic kidney disease” and to Dr Angela Wanhalla (History) for research entitled: “Marriage: The Politics of Private Life in New Zealand.”

The Fellowships, of which ten are awarded annually, are designed to develop and foster future leaders in the New Zealand science and innovation sector. They are funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and administered by the Royal Society of New Zealand.

The Rutherford Discovery Fellowships are open to researchers within three to eight years of having completed their PhD. The scheme was established in 2010 and now supports 40 fellows. Their research covers a vast range of topics from language studies to Antarctic research to the search for extra-solar Planets. By 2014, there are expected to be 50 fellows under the scheme.

Summaries of research:

Dr Suetonia Palmer

Dr Suetonia Palmer

Improving evidence for decision-makers in chronic kidney disease

Chronic kidney disease is common, affecting about 500,000 New Zealanders. Chronic kidney disease is important because it increases our chances of heart disease and death and may lead to needing treatment with dialysis or a kidney transplant. Dialysis therapy is a heavy and costly burden for patients and their families and the health system. However, finding reliable evidence to improve patient outcomes is hindered by the lack of rigorous summaries of evidence for many clinical questions that patients, doctors and policy-makers need answers to.

The first focus for this research will be to understand whether using surrogate markers of health, common to research in this field, is useful when deciding whether treatments work.

The second research focus explores important potential causes of poor quality of life for people with chronic kidney disease which can be tested in future trials to improve patient health and wellbeing.

The third research focus will be to provide a comprehensive framework of understanding about existing treatments known to protect kidney function, so that clinicians, patients and funders can know which, of many, treatments is best with the fewest side-effects.

Finally, the research will focus on how patients and healthcare providers experience chronic kidney disease care in Canterbury so that they can work together to find new and sustainable ways to improve healthcare for their own region.

The research programme as a whole aims to provide rigorous overviews of existing research and participant-led enquiry to provide better and more useable information for clinicians, consumers and policy-makers in the field of chronic kidney disease.

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Dr Angela Wanhalla

Dr Angela Wanhalla

Marriage: The Politics of Private Life in New Zealand

Who defines marriage, which authorities govern it, and who ought to be allowed entry into marriage is contested in every society and culture. Marriage is debated because it is a foundational social, economic and cultural institution underpinned by a body of legislation that sets out a number of rights and benefits associated with it. Yet, despite the centrality of marriage to the formation of modern society, its historical development has been under-studied in New Zealand.

Through a comprehensive survey of social statistics as well as public and private records, this research programme will rectify the current dearth of analytic research in this field by investigating the centrality of private life to the formation of civic culture through three interrelated projects.

The first project will investigate the evolution of legal definitions of marriage. The second project will examine religious debates over marriage, turning to explore its emotional dimensions in the form of public and community responses to inter-faith relationships. The final project will use the experiences of couples from diverse backgrounds to plot how marriage was understood and defined in their lives, thus moving the interpretation of ‘marriage’ beyond a singular focus upon its legal dimensions.

In focusing on the perspectives of couples and the language they use to define the nature of their relationship the project will highlight the social and cultural significance of marriage on a public, private and emotional level.

Each project will contribute to a research programme that aims to trace the historical dimensions of current debates about the legal definition of marriage, assessing to what extent marriage was used to demarcate access to the benefits of social citizenship, and to what degree private life was regulated by church, state, communities and families.
Drawing connections between private life and political and public debate will generate new knowledge about the role of church, state and the family in regulating private matters, while paying attention to the contours of emotion and intimacy will add a new dimension to the study of New Zealand history.

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