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Otago academics new Ngā Ahurei a Te Apārangi Fellows

Thursday, 28 November 2019

elaine-reese-and-phil-seddon-collage-image
Otago Professors Phil Seddon (left) and Elaine Reese have been elected as Fellows of the Academy of the Royal Society Te Apārangi.

Two outstanding Otago academics are among 19 new Ngā Ahurei a Te Apārangi Fellows to be elected to the Academy of the Royal Society Te Apārangi.

Zoology’s Professor Philip Seddon and Psychology’s Professor Elaine Reese are each world leaders in their very different fields.

Professor Seddon is an outstanding conservation biologist and founding member of the expanding field of Reintroduction Biology. His work improves the practice, scientific underpinnings and success of species translocations globally.

He says election as a Ngā Ahurei a Te Apārangi Fellow is a huge honour.

“To be recognised by, and to join outstanding academics and researchers who have made such an impact in their fields. It is very humbling.”

"I am very proud that Kiwi conservation researchers and managers stand out and are considered to be innovative and world-leading."

Alongside his research and teaching Professor Seddon has key leadership roles within specialist groups of the International Union for Conservation of Nature. His publications, including key papers in flagship journals such as Nature Ecology & Evolution, Science, Conservation Biology, and Trends in Ecology and Evolution, have shaped international conservation policy.

He says while the world is bombarded by conservation doom and gloom, in his field of reintroduction biology there are many globally important conservation success stories.

“I am very proud that Kiwi conservation researchers and managers stand out and are considered to be innovative and world-leading. We might have a lot of challenges in New Zealand and around the world, but I am confident we have the skills and the drive to tackle them, and I am very pleased to be able to make a small contribution to those efforts.”

Professor Reese is a world-leading expert on autobiographical memory. She began her career with the ground-breaking discovery that the way in which mothers and young children talk about the past has long-lasting effects on a child’s memory development. Over the years, she has expanded her research to include studies with older children and adolescents, tracing the role of maternal reminiscing practices in the development of children’s narrative skill, self-concept, and wellbeing over significant periods of development. More recently, in work with Māori families, she has documented how cross-cultural differences in maternal reminiscing are reflected in children’s emerging life stories. Each discovery has set a new bar in the field of developmental psychology and has fostered new research in laboratories around the world.

She is also very honoured to be elected a Ngā Ahurei a Te Apārangi Fellow.

“Knowing that this kind of research is valued is also inspiring me to continue to follow up with these young people, who are now in their 20s.”

She says her passion comes in part from “sheer and simple curiosity”.

"My grandmother lived with us when I was young, and she would tell me fantastic stories of her childhood in the 1890s in Key West, Florida ... I believe that my early memories of hearing her stories shaped how I see myself and the life choices I've made."

“I want to understand why we remember what we do from early childhood, and how parents and grandparents shape that process. I’ve been interested in early memories and family stories since I was a young child myself. My grandmother lived with us when I was young, and she would tell me fantastic stories of her childhood in the 1890s in Key West, Florida. I suppose I always wanted to be as adventurous as she was, which is part of the reason I moved to New Zealand100 years later in the early 1990s. I believe that my early memories of hearing her stories shaped how I see myself and the life choices I've made.

“The strongest force that drives me in my research, however, is to apply this knowledge to making life better for children and adolescents. I firmly believe that we first need a strong base of evidence of why and how these basic processes develop in order to understand how to improve the life course for young people.”

Chair of the Academy Executive Committee Otago’s Professor Richard Blaikie says it was pleasing to see new Fellows from a wide range of disciplines and backgrounds, and is very pleased for Professors Seddon and Reece.

“I offer Elaine and Phil my heartfelt congratulations for the amazing achievements they have made over their careers to date that has led to this recognition.

“It is a privilege to serve as Chair of the Academy Executive Committee to oversee the election process, through which outstanding and distinctive contributions to mātauranga, humanities, science, social sciences and technology developments are recognised.”

Royal Society Te Apārangi is an independent not-for-profit organisation that supports all New Zealanders to explore, discover and share knowledge.

To celebrate the discoveries of New Zealand researchers, the Society awards medals and elects Fellows, who are leaders in their fields. These experts help the Society to provide independent advice to New Zealanders and the government on issues of public concern.