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$4m for promising Massey researchers

Clockwise from top left: Dr Jodie Hunter; Dr Ágnes Szabó; Dr Matt Roskruge; Dr Alexander Melnikov; and Dr David Aguirre. 

Five of 11 Rutherford Discovery Fellowships this year have been awarded to Massey University researchers, with funding totalling $4 million over the next five years.

Announced by the Royal Society Te Apārangi, the fellowships seek to support New Zealand’s most talented early-to mid-career researchers to accelerate their research careers in Aotearoa. Each fellowship is worth $800,000.

The Massey fellows research includes work that aims to help protect coral reefs and kelp forests, understand and promote ageing well in multicultural societies, understand social capital from a Māori perspective, improve online algorithms, and better understand the mathematical experiences of diverse learners.

Massey Vice-Chancellor Professor Jan Thomas says the fellowships showcase the research strength within the university.

“At Massey, we are creating an environment where the world’s best young researchers can flourish,” Professor Thomas says. “These researchers are being acknowledged for their applied and discovery research and for attracting further external investment to further it and their careers. It is very exciting to see many of these researchers facilitating indigenous knowledge development and leadership.”

Provost Professor Giselle Byrnes says the result reflects both academic and professional excellence.

“For all five shortlisted applicants to be successful is an extraordinary result,” Professor Byrnes says. “To have five of the 11 fellowships awarded to a single institution is, I believe, unprecedented. To date our best result had been last year when Dr Krushil Watene and Associate Professor Karen Stockin were successful. This reflects not only the outstanding calibre of our researchers, but the support staff who have been able to make this happen.”

Chair of the selection panel, Professor Lisa Matisoo-Smith said the high calibre of applicants made it extremely difficult to select 11 new research fellows out of more than 80 who applied. “This year we interviewed 22 candidates and all were outstanding,” she says. “The process gives me great faith in the future of research in this country. It was particularly exciting to be able to bring two outstanding researchers from overseas back home to New Zealand.”

The Massey fellowship awardees

Dr Matt Roskruge – Understanding how Māori social capital could boost the economy – School of Economics and Finance.

Dr Matthew Roskruge, Te Āti Awa, Ngāti Tama, Ngāti Rārua, co-director of Te Au Rangahau (Māori Business and Leadership Centre) at Massey’s School of Economics and Finance, will explore what social capital means within a Māori world view and how it can be used to create positive outcomes.

Dr Roskruge describes social capital as the networks and linkages between people along which information flows. His research project will create a for-Māori, by-Māori model of social capital and analyse case studies where Māori have activated their social capital to benefit communities. He will also see investigate other indigenous systems to see if learnings can be gained. 

Dr Roskruge says the Māori population is moving into a period of what is called a “demographic dividend”, which is when there is a comparatively large proportion of working-age Māori, relative to the those who are dependant. He says this presents an opportunity to create economic wealth if the Māori workforce is activated.

Dr David Aguirre – Ecosystems on unstable foundations: examining the potential for coral and macroalgal responses to global change – School of Natural and Computational Sciences.

Dr David Aguirre, Ngāti Kahungunu, Te Whānau-ā-Apanui, senior lecturer in the School of Natural and Computational Sciences, will develop a novel unified framework for reef ecosystems, and examine the forces governing transitions in the dominant species found on temperate and tropical reefs.

His research focuses on understanding how rapid change in the global climate over the last century affects marine biodiversity and, in turn, human populations.

Dr Aguirre will address key challenges in kelp forests and coral reefs. As shallow, equatorial regions become increasingly hostile to coral, the hope for Dr Aguirre’s research is that deep and high latitude reefs will become the sanctum for corals and coral reef biodiversity.

He will develop a novel unified framework for reef ecosystems, and examine the forces governing transitions in the dominant species found on temperate and tropical reefs. He will also examine the potential for adaptive evolution in response to environmental conditions driving widespread declines in Aotearoa New Zealand’s kelp forests. Ultimately, he will explore the possibility of transplanting preadapted kelps into wild populations as a conservation strategy for populations at risk of extinction.

Dr Jodie Hunter – Developing mathematical inquriy communities – Institute of Education­

Dr Jodie Hunter, co-director of the Centre for Research in Mathematics Education at Massey’s Institute of Education, researchers ways to provide equitable and culturally-responsive opportunities for Pacific and Māori students to engage in productive mathematical learning.

Her research project will document the mathematical experiences of diverse learners outside of school, including home and community settings, through student and parent use of photography and video recording.

Dr Hunter leads an innovative, equity-focused professional learning and development programme that has been implemented in schools within New Zealand, Niue and the Cook Islands that serve the most disadvantaged communities. Her project will create a framework for equitable mathematics teaching practices that promote social norms around respect, collaboration, and cultural inclusion for diverse students.

Dr Ágnes Szabó – Growing old in an adopted land: Cross-fertilising ageing and acculturation research – School of Health Sciences

Dr Ágnes Szabó’s research will integrate cultural gerontology and the inequalities migrants face over the course of their lives, taking into account the complex social, cultural and embodied dimensions of ageing.

Population ageing is one of the biggest challenges faced by modern societies. In 2013, 27.5 per cent of people in Aotearoa New Zealand aged 65+ were born overseas and this figure is expected to increase dramatically as migrants of the 1980s reach retirement. Growing old involves complex developmental and social changes for everyone, but navigating the ageing process can be especially challenging for migrants.

The School of Health Sciences lecturer will photograph and interview participants on their experiences and perspectives, looking at life history and conducting surveys to explore what ageing well means for migrants, and how they achieve it over the course of their lives. Her work will produce a culturally sensitive, ethical framework for understanding and promoting ageing well in multicultural societies, and will foster understanding of how to support ageing well in diverse and rapidly ageing societies, such as New Zealand.

Dr Alexander Melnikov – Applications of modern computability – School of Natural and Computational Sciences

Dr Melnikov’s research will apply advanced methods of computability theory to two broad and interconnected programs of research.

Dr Melnikov is interested in so-called “online algorithms”, which are particularly suited to certain types of problems. An online algorithm can process its input piece by piece in a serial fashion without having the entire input available from the start. However, because it does not know the whole input, an online algorithm is forced to make decisions that may later turn out not to be optimal.

Dr Melnikov will apply advanced methods of computability theory to two broad and interconnected programmes of research. The first area of research is the classification problems in mathematics, which uses computational and algorithmic tools to attack long-standing open problems in logic, algebra and topology. The second is a new general theory of online algorithms, relying on similar methods, to develop a new general theory of online computation, which has strong connections with algorithm design.

A senior lecturerin the School of Natural and Computational Sciences, Dr Melnikov believes that the growing online algorithm programme will eventually find real-world applications through explaining and advancing already extant applied algorithms as well as constructing entirely new algorithms.

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