17 November 2021

Associate Professor Priscilla Wehi has been awarded the 2021 Hill Tinsley Medal from the New Zealand Association of Scientists (NZAS).

Cilla is the Director of Te Pūnaha Matatini and a leading figure in conservation biology and ethnobiology in Aotearoa New Zealand. The Hill Tinsley Medal recognises her innovative research at the intersection of science and mātauranga.

The NZAS Medals for 2021 were presented on 15 November 2021, following the Association’s online conference and AGM. The Hill Tinsley Medal is awarded for outstanding fundamental or applied research in the physical, natural or social sciences published by a scientist or scientists within 15 years of their PhD.

Cilla engages with some of the most challenging conservation issues that confront humanity globally, focusing on the links between culture, biodiversity, and ecological restoration.

Her research is cross-disciplinary and incorporates humanities and western science, working with both quantitative and qualitative approaches in learning how the world works. She has also been active in finding non-traditional ways of communicating her research, collaborating in media from comics to film.

“When I look at the past recipients of the Hill Tinsley Meal, I see scientists who have created change in both our understanding of the world, and the tools we use to examine problems,” says Cilla.

“It is a huge privilege to be part of this group. However I also want to acknowledge the immense contribution of all researchers, and the collective body of work that we contribute to, which enables us to solve problems. Kua rarangatahi tātou he whariki mō ngā rā a mua.”

Cilla’s research interests are focused on human-nature relationships, including biocultural diversity and Indigenous environmental relationships. She also works on introduced species that challenge native ecosystems, insect ecology and behaviour, and interdisciplinary Antarctic research.

Professor Troy Baisden said that “From my perspective as the NZAS President presenting the award, and knowing Cilla as a Te Pūnaha Matatini investigator, the citation and her response on accepting the award sum up how she has showed daring in crossing disciplinary boundaries to deliver major insights through excellent research, while always thinking of people along the way.”

“Her work and the citations speaks for themselves, yet she wanted to communicate that a significant amount of her work was carried out on precarious contracts. She had the daring to succeed while taking risks, but the risks and challenges facing post-docs interrupted by the pandemic is huge – she asks how we can do more to help today’s emerging researchers.”

Cilla is passionate about inclusivity and diversity in science and has undertaken extensive work with Māori communities to incorporate their needs and aspirations. Her natural curiosity and open approach to multiple ways of knowing make her a role model and natural leader for many emerging scholars who seek to work in a cross-cultural way.