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Unprecedented success for Otago at the NZ Research Honours Awards

Thursday 18 October 2018 10:22pm

Otago-royal-society-awards-image
Otago's New Zealand Research Honours Award recipients with members of Otago's senior leadership at the awards dinner in Wellington last night (from left) Associate Professor Suzanne Pitama, Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor Richard Barker, Dr Helen Taylor, Professor Lisa Matisoo-Smith, Emeritus Professor Carolyn Burns, Professor Barbara Brookes, Professor Brett Delahunt, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Enterprise) Professor Richard Blaikie and Dean of the University of Otago, Wellington, Professor Sunny Collings. Photo: Royal Society Te Apārangi.

The University has had unprecedented success at the New Zealand Research Honours Awards this year, taking home one quarter of the awards on offer.

Otago staff members won six of the 24 awards at last night’s New Zealand Research Honours Awards’ dinner in Wellington. Professor Lisa Matisoo-Smith received the Mason Durie Medal, Associate Professor Suzanne Pitama the Metge Medal, Professor Brett Delahunt the Hercus Medal, Emeritus Professor Carolyn Burns the Thomson Medal, Professor Barbara Brookes the Humanities Aronui Medal and Dr Helen Taylor the Callaghan Medal.

"This is a significant number that reinforces the strength and breadth of our research excellence."

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Richard Blaikie says it is a significant achievement to have six researchers from the University of Otago honoured among the 24 award recipients.

“This is a significant number that reinforces the strength and breadth of our research excellence.”

Over the past decade, the largest number of awards the University has received at any one time was five. However, Professor Blaikie points out there are now more awards on offer.

Associate Professor Suzanne Pitama - Metge Medal

Associate Professor Suzanne Pitama was awarded the Metge Medal for her influence on indigenous health education.

Associate Professor Pitama (Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Whare) is Associate Dean Māori and a founding Director of the Māori Indigenous Health Institute (MIHI) at the University of Otago, Christchurch. She is a registered psychologist and academic who has made a considerable contribution to inspiring and developing new research capacity and knowledge for health professional education, to help address critical indigenous health inequities in Aotearoa.

When she began her career in 2001, one hour was devoted to Māori health teaching in the three-year curriculum; now there are more than 60 hours. Culturally responsive models of care have now been integrated into the Māori health curriculum across the University of Otago’s three clinical schools, medical schools at other tertiary institutions, government departments and a broader range of health providers.
She is delighted to receive the award.

"Being able to work in the field of Māori health – to support whānau, hāpu and iwi aspirations for health equity – is a privilege,” Associate Professor Pitama explains.

“This award reflects an acknowledgment of the communities and colleagues who have pioneered and championed this area, of whose work I am able to build upon,” she says.

“I am grateful for a supportive whānau, for my amazing Māori Indigenous Health Institute colleagues and those at the University of Otago who are part of a team addressing health inequities, and for our institution's commitment to support Māori health teaching and research.”

Professor Brett Delahunt - Hercus Medal

Professor Brett Delahunt ONZM received the Hercus Medal for his research on prostate and kidney cancer.

Professor Delahunt is an internationally recognised pathologist from the University of Otago, Wellington. His scientific work and insight have been central to the development of an internationally accepted classification system of important prognostic markers for prostate and renal cancers.

Professor Barbara Brookes - Humanities Aronui Medal

Historian Professor Barbara Brookes MNZM received the Humanities Aronui Medal for her outstanding contribution to humanities scholarship.

Professor Brookes is an authority on the history of women, medical history and New Zealand history. Her debut book Abortion in England, 1900-1967 (1988) marked the launch of a new field of enquiry: the social history of abortion. Reprinted in 2012, the book is today regarded as the landmark achievement in this field.

She has since produced numerous edited volumes, journal articles and other books that provide historical perspectives on current health debates, reshaping the scholarly landscape in medical history with a new focus on gender and health. Her most recent book, A History of Women in New Zealand (2016) won the 2017 Ockham Award for best illustrated non-fiction.

Professor Lisa Matisoo-Smith - Mason Durie Medal

Professor Lisa Matisoo-Smith has been awarded the Mason Durie Medal for her ground-breaking work that has, through strong relationships with New Zealand’s indigenous people, reshaped our understanding of the last great human migration into the Pacific.

Professor of Biological Anthropology in the Department of Anatomy, she is an internationally renowned biological anthropologist. She has used leading-edge technologies for interrogating both ancient and modern DNA to address fundamental anthropological questions, particularly those concerning the origins of Pacific people.

Emeritus Professor Carolyn Burns - Thomson Medal

Emeritus Professor Carolyn Burns CBE was recognised for her outstanding leadership and service to environmental science and conservation.

Professor Burns’ research speciality is the effect of human impacts and climate change on the biodiversity, processes, conservation and management of lakes and wetlands. Based in the Department of Zoology, she has been the primary supervisor of 60 postgraduate students and has examined an even greater number of doctoral candidates. Many of her students are grateful for her ongoing encouragement, enthusiasm and affirmation throughout their careers.

Dr Helen Taylor - Callaghan Medal

Research Fellow Helen Taylor’s science communication around conservation genetics and threatened species has earned her the 2018 Callaghan Medal for outstanding contribution to science communication and raising public awareness of the value of science to human progress.

Dr Taylor’s most recent project, The Great Hihi Sperm Race, a humorous and highly educational web-based fundraiser is arguably her most successful science communication initiative to date.

It allowed people to place bets on which of the 128 birds in four of the seven remaining populations of hihi would have the fastest swimming sperm. The campaign provided an ideal platform for Dr Taylor to discuss her research and hihi conservation with both the media and general public and raised more than $11,000 for hihi conservation from supporters in 17 countries. The project addressed the question of whether poor male fertility is a contributing factor to population decline and poor hatching success rates in inbred birds.

Our academic building is temporarily closed for seismic reasons but our top class teaching, studying and research programmes remain in full swing.

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