Directors' Blog

Efficient and fair surgical schedules with algorithms

Efficient and fair surgical schedules with algorithms

1 April 2022

Dr Thomas Adams is working to improve surgical scheduling using algorithms and individualised surgical duration predictions.

Increased throughput, increased utilisation, decreased overtime, fewer overdue operations, and less staff time required for planning: all of these can be achieved with improved surgery scheduling. By using accurate predictions of operation durations, giving priority to patients that are urgent or have been waiting a long time, and balancing the trade-off between increasing utilisation and surgical sessions running overtime, computer algorithms can be used to inform surgical schedules that are efficient and fair.

I have been awarded a postdoctoral fellowship from Precision Driven Health and the Health Research Council to develop improved surgical scheduling algorithms using individualised surgical duration predictions. I am currently working on this project alongside Te Pūnaha Matatini Principal Investigators Associate Professor Cameron Walker and Dr Michael O’Sullivan.

We have combined a novel algorithm for predicting how long operations take with an advanced scheduling algorithm. The novel prediction algorithm uses the Systemized Nomenclature of Medicine (SNOMED) medical terminology database to find links between types of procedures, which enables us to make better predictions for less frequent procedures, as similarities can be found to more common procedures.

These improved predictions are fed into our scheduling algorithm alongside the operations that need to be performed and the sessions that they can be performed in. The scheduling algorithm finds the best way of allocating the operations to the sessions so that as many operations are performed as possible, while making sure that no patients have to wait too long for their operation and no sessions are scheduled that are too likely to run overtime.

Initial testing of our algorithm-supported approach shows improvement in all key metrics: a 7% increase in throughput, a 5% increase in utilisation, a 14% reduction in overtime and a 21% reduction in operations being overdue.

The two pictures below show an actual schedule on the left, and a schedule created with our algorithm on the right. Both schedules started at the same point at the beginning of the year, and the pictures show the results after five months. The optimised schedule has fitted in more operations, allowing more of the waiting list to be cleared, and resulting in fewer overdue operations remaining. The surgical sessions are also better utilised with no overruns or underutilised sessions.

A comparison between an actual surgery schedule and a schedule created with the team's algorithm, showing an increase in total surgeries performed.

The next step in our research is to better understand how operating rooms are managed and surgeries are currently scheduled in Aotearoa New Zealand, so that we can refine our algorithms to be as relevant and easy to use as possible. In particular we are interested in how operating room time is allocated to specialties or surgeons, how far in advance operations are scheduled, who decides which operations are performed on each day, and how emergency operations are accommodated.

We are also working alongside scOPe solutions to organise a pilot of the scheduling software, and have collaborated with Orion Health to make a simplified version of the scheduling algorithm available online via the New Zealand Algorithm Hub.

https://algorithmhub.co.nz/algorithms/surgical-scheduling

PhD scholarship on modelling and optimising healthcare delivery

Ngā Ara Hou ki te Ora / New Pathways to Wellbeing

Healthcare delivery: Wellbeing, justice, equity and efficiency

Applications are invited for a fully-funded PhD studentship to work on a project modelling healthcare delivery and optimising for wellbeing, justice, equity, and efficiency.

Equitable access to healthcare services, and timely transition to the next level of care for those patients who need it, are essential for health and wellbeing. Persistent failures to provide such access, not least “…the Crown’s failure to provide primary healthcare to Māori consistent with the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi…” requires critical attention. These inequities persist in patient pathways through to tertiary care.

How can we best improve healthcare, given that budgets are constrained? How can we improve equity of access to healthcare? What are the best measures of success for our healthcare services? Traditionally, operations research practitioners have used measures such as length of queues for treatment and time spent waiting for treatment as measures of efficiency for healthcare providers. Healthcare providers often also have targets, such as the target that “95 percent of patients will be admitted, discharged or transferred from an emergency department (ED) within six hours”. However, such measures do not necessarily reflect the lived experience of patients within our health system, and do not directly address equity of access and delivery.

This project will develop mathematical modelling, simulation and optimisation methods and tools to support capacity provision, allocation, and deployment decisions for health services, both longer term capacity provision, and shorter-term capacity allocation. Part of the project centres around which variables to include, and desirable outcomes and measures of success for health services that are appropriate for Aotearoa New Zealand and will promote wellbeing, justice and equity in delivery.

Eligibility

This scholarship is open to anyone who can be in New Zealand and meets the requirements to enrol in a PhD at the University of Auckland.

We are happy to consider students from a diverse range of fields including statistics, engineering, computer science, mathematics, and physics. The project involves modelling (primarily stochastic modelling), optimisation and simulation, and a background knowledge in one or more of these areas is expected. The successful candidate will hold, or expect to complete soon, a masters degree, or similar, in their disciplinary area.

Applicants from all backgrounds are actively encouraged to apply. Members of underrepresented groups are very welcome, as are students with families. Our research group aims to achieve work-life balance within a productive scientific environment.

Location

You will be based at the University of Auckland and will work with Associate Professor Marama Muru-Lanning, Dr Michael O’Sullivan, Professor Tava Olsen, Associate Professor Cameron Walker, Associate Professor Krushil Watene and Associate Professor Ilze Ziedins.

The PhD position will be embedded within Te Pūnaha Matatini, the Aotearoa New Zealand Centre of Research Excellence for Complex Systems. Te Pūnaha Matatini brings together ‘many faces’ – different disciplines, ways of thought, methods, and crucially, people – to define, and then solve, society’s thorny interconnected problems.

This project brings together researchers in mathematical modelling and operations research with scholars in Māori anthropology and philosophy who have worked on Māori perspectives on wellbeing, and social and economic determinants of health and wellbeing. This transdisciplinary approach characterises Te Pūnaha Matatini and is unique within the Aotearoa New Zealand research system; it carries methods, approaches, and tools over from one discipline to another, and in doing so, develops integrated and transformative insights.

Contact

Informal enquiries are welcome by email:

Financial details

  • Full tuition fees
  • Stipend of NZ$28,800 per year (tax free)

Start date

Start date is flexible but would preferably be by July 2022.

How to apply

Interested candidates should send an email expressing their interest, along with a CV, academic record, and list of three potential referees to Ilze Ziedins at i.ziedins@auckland.ac.nz.

Due date

Applications will be considered until the position is filled. Applications received by Saturday 30 April 2022 will receive full consideration.

PhD scholarship on game theory and fundamental social and biological interactions

Applications are invited for a fully funded PhD scholarship to examine fundamental social and biological interactions using game theory.

Do you want to know why fundamental aspects of social and biological interactions are the way they are? Such as why sexual reproduction nearly always requires two different sexes. And why money is pretty much ubiquitous in human societies.

We do! We see the world through the lens of evolutionary game theory with stochastic interacting agents. They all want to get the best for themselves, and somehow self-organise to find equilibria where nobody is too unhappy.

Constructing and analysing these games requires maths, computer science, and some knowledge of the system we are evolving, which might be the evolution of oogamy, or more generally cooperation within groups. Or something else that’s equally exciting… That’s where you might come in.

Eligibility

This scholarship is open to anyone who can be in New Zealand and meets the requirements to enrol in a PhD at the relevant institution.

You will have a background in quantitative subjects, and a lively interest in the world around you.

We encourage applicants from all backgrounds to apply and we especially encourage applications from Māori and Pasifika students. Our research group aims to achieve work-life balance within a productive scientific environment.

Location

You will be based at Victoria University of Wellington, in Aotearoa New Zealand’s capital. You will be jointly supervised by Associate Professor Marcus Frean, Professor Stephen Marsland and Dr Chrissie Painting.

You will be part of Te Pūnaha Matatini, the Aotearoa New Zealand Centre of Research Excellence for Complex Systems. Te Pūnaha Matatini brings together different disciplines, ways of thinking, methods, and people to define and solve society’s thorny interconnected problems.

Te Pūnaha Matatini has an active whānau group which supports early career researchers, committed to the Te Pūnaha Matatini values of manaakitanga and whakawhanaungatanga, offering supportive tuakana / teina learning environments.

Contact

Please get in touch if you have questions about this position.

Financial details

  • Full tuition fees
  • Stipend of NZ$28,800 per year (tax free)

Start date

Start date is flexible but would preferably be between January and June 2022.

How to apply

Interested candidates should send an email expressing their interest, along with a CV, academic record, and list of three potential referees to Marcus Frean at marcus.frean@vuw.ac.nz.

Due date

Applications will be considered until the position is filled. Applications received by Friday 21 January 2022 will receive full consideration.

Innovative research at the intersection of science and mātauranga

Innovative research at the intersection of science and mātauranga

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.

 

Understanding mis- and disinformation in Aotearoa New Zealand

12 November 2021

Who are we?

The Disinformation Project was brought together by Te Pūnaha Matatini, a Centre of Research Excellence hosted by the University of Auckland. We are a team of researchers from diverse academic backgrounds, including history, sociology, mathematics, data analysis, physics, and computer science.

Since February 2020, we have been studying the spread of misinformation and disinformation within Aotearoa New Zealand, to understand the trends and what they mean for our country.

What are misinformation and disinformation?

  • Misinformation is false information that was not created with the intent to harm people.
  • Disinformation is false information that was created with the intent to harm a person, community, or organisation.

Science communicator Siouxsie Wiles has written more about the red flags of misinformation and disinformation at https://thespinoff.co.nz/society/21-08-2021/siouxsie-wiles-toby-morris-the-red-flags-of-covid-misinformation/.



How do you study this?

We look at a number of public facing pages and groups across a number of platforms on the internet — including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Telegram. Every day we look at posts and comments. This helps us to understand what is being said and the language used.

What have you found?

Increase from August 2021

There has been a sharp increase in the amount of posts and people liking, sharing, and commenting on them since 17 August 2021, when Aotearoa New Zealand first returned into Alert Level 4 lockdown.

Links to far right

The most recent Covid-19 outbreak and the vaccine are strong symbols that are being used to push various far-right and conservative views. These include opinions and beliefs that are against gun control, against women’s rights, anti-gay, anti-transgender, anti-takatāpui, anti-immigration, anti-1080, anti LGBTQ+, conservative Christian/Christian supremacist, anti-Muslim, anti-Jewish, faith-based ideas, and anti-Māori sentiment.

Anti-Māori sentiment

Online spaces that promote and share misinformation and disinformation also promote a lot of anti-Māori sentiment, including opposition to Māori land rights, Māori sovereignty, and te Tiriti o Waitangi/the Treaty of Waitangi.

It has become common for local pākehā and overseas white supremacists to use Māori symbols and culture to promote these ideas. Misused symbols include the Tino Rangatiratanga flag, the United Tribes flag, language of ‘hīkoi’, and te reo Māori. It is concerning to see anti-Māori people taking symbols from Māori culture — we worry that they are trying to erase the Māori meanings of these symbols and replace them with their own anti-Māori meanings.



Imported themes from overseas

Some of the misinformation and disinformation we are seeing in Aotearoa New Zealand’s online spaces is imported from overseas, especially from Australia and the United States. This content often talks about the state being tyrannical, lecherous, and something that should not be trusted. This kind of messaging can appeal to communities who have been treated badly or feel ignored by governments.

However, these anti-government messages are often being imported alongside white supremacist ideologies — the creators do not care about Māori being harmed by the government, and are very anti-Māori themselves. We think this overseas messaging is aiming to destabilise our public health measures and vaccination efforts, and we are therefore concerned this will have the worst effects on our most marginalised communities. This overseas imported content is often the most violent in language.

Tools used

Online misinformation and disinformation uses memes, humour, and trolling to make people respond and increase the amount of people that see it.

  • A meme is a video, picture, or phrase that a lot of people send to each other on the internet.
  • Trolling is when someone makes a provocative comment on the internet with the intention of making people respond.

On social media, posts that people respond to spread further and reach more people. Also, people are more likely to choose to share memes on their own personal pages, which helps normalise and spread disinformation. Memes, humour and trolling material is also divisive, and seeks to offer a strong sense of community for in-group members, while also mocking out-group members.



OK, What does this mean?

The types of content we study have increased since the most recent Covid-19 outbreak and vaccination rollout began. But the content isn’t just about Covid-19 anymore.

Based on what we are seeing, we are worried that people engaging with Covid-19 misinformation and disinformation are being pushed towards right-wing and conservative opinions and beliefs. These opinions and beliefs include, but are not limited to, ideas about gun control, anti-Māori sentiment, anti-gay, anti-trans, anti-takatāpui, conservative ideals around family and family structure (e.g. opposing larger whānau groups and favouring small families that live apart), misogyny, and anti-immigration.

Therefore, increasing misinformation and disinformation pose risks to those who are already marginalised and targeted. We think that this increasing misinformation and disinformation poses significant threats to social cohesion, freedom of expression, inclusion, and safety.

 

What’s in our soil, and what it means for us

What’s in our soil, and what it means for us

Te Pūnaha Matatini supports the work of Soilsafe Aotearoa to explore community soil values and map lead and other metals in home garden soils.

Dr Emma Sharp has been interested in home garden soils since she came across a newspaper article about blood lead levels in domestic chickens in Sydney.

Emma is a geographer and a Principal Investigator at Te Pūnaha Matatini. When her environmental chemist colleague Dr Melanie Kah approached her about starting up a local version of an Australian project testing domestic soil for metal contaminants, Emma raced to her office to grab the newspaper clipping that had been pinned there for several years.

“I ran and got the newspaper article and waved it in front of Melanie and said ‘I’ve been interested in this for a really long time!’” says Emma. “It turned out that it was the same research unit, and I said ‘I’ve got all kinds of ideas for this. If I’m involved, we can make this true to Aotearoa – let’s look at it from all angles.’”

“And so Soilsafe Aotearoa was born. It’s a project of diverse soil values. We’re thinking about community values, public education, Indigenous perspectives, artistic interpretations, and things that are beyond economics – which is how soil is usually considered in Aotearoa and around the world.”

Emma recently received the 2021 Research Communication Award from the School of Environment at the University of Auckland for her work with Soilsafe. She also took home the Early Career Research Award, and says that her association with Te Pūnaha Matatini and engagement work with Soilsafe were cited as reasons for this award.

“The way that I gained my engagement skills in the first place is being associated with things like Te Pūnaha Matatini Engagement Incubators and the wide variety of different people that we engage with at Te Pūnaha Matatini.”

 

Emma made use of Te Pūnaha Matatini’s Engagement Laundromat to ensure that engagement was central to Soilsafe from the very start.

A mainstay of Soilsafe is an ongoing testing programme, in which members of the public send in samples of soil from key places in their gardens to be tested for a suite of eight heavy metals. The results are returned with guidance about how people can modify the ways they interact with soil to reduce exposure to any contaminants that might have been detected.

Soilsafe’s lab at GNS Dunedin was inundated with soil samples after the project was mentioned on TVNZ’s Sunday show, and they have now processed over 2,000 samples.

Emma and Melanie are interested in patterns of soil contamination in locations close to main roads, due to the legacies of leaded petrol. They are also exploring a sociodemographic correlation to less well maintained houses that have peeling lead paint.

Other data sources include questionnaires and interviews about people’s values regarding gardens and gardening in Aotearoa over the COVID-19 lockdown period in early 2020.

“We get the sense that people got into their gardens a lot more during lockdown,” says Emma. “Gardens were safe spaces, but they were also spaces where people could turn their attention to something else and nurture and care for something in a world that was feeling challenging.”

Te Pūnaha Matatini has funded two Soilsafe events in Takapuna and Rānui to engage children with the values of soil. Emma made sure that engagement was central to Soilsafe from the very start using Te Pūnaha Matatini’s engagement laundromat.

“Te Pūnaha Matatini has been a really fantastic support for the Soilsafe programme,” she says.

At the engagement events, participants learned about soil from Emma and Melanie, enjoyed hands-on experience with soil science through microscopes and worm farms, and engaged in soil values through the work of artists Nicole Johnson and Ekarasa Doblanovic and photographer Shona Dey.

Te Pūnaha Matatini has also just provided seed funding for Emma and Melanie to develop Soilsafe Kids, which will provide interdisciplinary and multicultural teaching and learning about soil’s scientific and societal values, engaging school children and their communities in a holistic approach to soil science and soil science research.

“Soilsafe is flourishing,” says Emma. “It’s great.”

“We’ve had some amazing media pickup and interest from community organisations. For me, the most important thing is genuinely connecting with community organisations to make sure our work is community led, and useful for them.”


Effect of vaccination, border testing, and quarantine requirements on the risk of COVID-19 in New Zealand

10 November 2021

We use a stochastic branching process model to investigate the risk of border-related outbreaks of COVID-19 and strategies to mitigate this risk.

In this paper we couple a simple model of quarantine and testing strategies for international travellers with a model for transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in a partly vaccinated population. We use this model to estimate the risk of an infectious traveller causing a community outbreak under various border control strategies and different levels of vaccine coverage in the population.

We find that strategies that rely on home isolation result in significantly higher risk than the current mandatory 14-day stay in government-managed isolation. Nevertheless, combinations of testing and home isolation can still reduce the risk of a community outbreak to around one outbreak per 100 infected travellers. We also find that, under some circumstances, using daily lateral flow tests or a combination of lateral flow tests and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests can reduce risk to a comparable or lower level than using PCR tests alone.

Combined with controls on the number of travellers from countries with high prevalence of COVID-19, our results allow different options for managing the risk of COVID-19 at the border to be compared. This can be used to inform strategies for relaxing border controls in a phased way, while limiting the risk of community outbreaks as vaccine coverage increases.

 

Mis- and disinformation in Aotearoa New Zealand

9 November 2021

Since February 2020 a small interdisciplinary team, The Disinformation Project, has been observing and analysing open source, publicly available data related to Covid-19 mis- and disinformation on social media, mainstream media, and in physical and other digital forms of information and knowledge dissemination.

Since 17 August 2021, when Aotearoa New Zealand’s Delta outbreak meant a shift into Alert Level 4 across the country, there has been a sharp increase in the popularity and intensity of Covid-19-specific disinformation and other forms of ‘dangerous speech’ and disinformation, related to far-right ideologies.

Over the past twelve weeks, The Disinformation Project monitored this material, observing key trends and analysing impact. This brief working paper introduces some of our key findings so far on the infodemic – around engagement, content, reception to the Covid-19 vaccine, language, approaches employed, and targeted groups.

 

How we can make science education more equitable

How we can make science education more equitable

8 November 2021

Te Pūnaha Matatini was a natural home for Dr Steven Turnbull to complete his doctoral project on tertiary science participation in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Equity in science participation is central to Te Pūnaha Matatini’s ethos, and so is Dr Steven Turnbull’s distinctly transdisciplinary approach. For his PhD in Education, Steven combined quantitative analysis of large-scale administrative student records with sociological theory and qualititative analysis of interviews to explore why students chose to engage or disengage from science education.

Using these methods, he explored disparities in science education and created a theoretical model showing how we can make the field of science education more equitable.

Steven was supervised by Te Pūnaha Matatini Principal Investigators Dr Dion O’Neale and Dr Kirsten Locke.

“Steven’s thesis was ambitious in scope, application and methodology,” says Kirsten. “The blending of qualitative and quantitative research approaches is not for the faint-hearted and is notoriously difficult to correctly balance. On this point, Steven’s thesis is exemplary.”

Steven completed a Bachelor of Arts in Education and Psychology, before pursuing postgraduate research in Education, culminating in this PhD project. He has been working with Dion since he did a summer scholarship in Physics during his undergraduate study.

Throughout his PhD Steven was involved with Te Pūnaha Matatini Whānau, and is a regular participant in Te Pūnaha Matatini’s Annual Hui.

“Steven’s PhD is a perfect example of the sort of transdisciplinary research that Te Pūnaha Matatini has enabled,” says Dion.

“While Steven’s thesis was a substantive academic piece of work, throughout his research there was a continuing focus on applications and outcomes that could bring about positive change in STEM education at both a systemic level and for individual students.”

In his thesis Steven analysed data obtained from Aotearoa New Zealand’s Integrated Data Infrastructure (IDI) about students studying STEM subjects in Aotearoa New Zealand. He used this data to identify trends in science participation through a novel method of network analysis.

This data was complemented by a survey of science students, followed by in-depth interviews to gain more insight into the human dimension to education engagement.

Steven then interrogated his findings through a theoretical framework based on the sociological work of Pierre Bourdieu.

“Steven is the very first person to ever collect and analyse a decade’s worth of NCEA science data through the Integrated Data Infrastructure (IDI) at Stats NZ,” notes Kirsten.

“The analysis that Steven performed with this enormous data set enabled an evidence-based exploration of exactly what was happening with secondary students in their subject selection and the inequities that occur through students turning away from science credits such as physics that could lead to university education.”

“If Steven had stopped there, the thesis would have been an excellent piece of work. However, the truly innovative and astonishing element is how Steven framed and dealt with this comprehensive and thorough data collection approach in relation to the theoretical work of Pierre Bourdieu.”

Steven is now using the quantitative and qualitative skillsets developed in his thesis to address inequities present in existing sources of individual-level data as a postdoctoral research fellow on Te Pūnaha Matatini’s COVID-19 modelling team.

He says that “being in a place were you can contribute to mitigating COVID-19 risk in New Zealand is quite a powerful thing”.

For Steven and the modelling team, this is values-driven work. “Te Pūnaha Matatini is constantly taking an equity-based approach, putting marginalised groups at the centre of everything we do.”

 

He took foundational physics and is now teaching the course

He took foundational physics and is now teaching the course

3 November 2021

Dr Kannan Ridings teaches Tertiary Foundation Certificate and Tuākana students that the best work that they can do will come from collaborative efforts.

Dr Kannan Ridings (Rongowhakaata) struggled at high school – until he discovered science.

“In one of the first tests that we had for science at high school I ended up getting one of the top marks in the class. It just seemed to come naturally to me, and that sparked quite a bit of interest.”

“As I went through high school I became more interested in physics. I remember in one of my classes the teacher said that nothing can go faster than the speed of light, and I thought ‘wow that’s interesting, why is that?’”

“After high school I enrolled in the Tertiary Foundation Certificate and managed to do well enough to get accepted into a Bachelor of Science. I struggled quite a bit at first with studying, but in second and third year physics I hit my stride, and started getting quite good grades.”

When Kannan was taking his third year courses in physics, an inspirational lecturer started at the University of Auckland: Professor Shaun Hendy.

“Shaun was teaching a particularly interesting course about condensed matter physics, and he was one of the best lecturers I’ve had. I was continuously asking questions and being annoying. Shaun went on to become my PhD supervisor in computational materials science.”

“When I first met Shaun was also when Te Pūnaha Matatini was first funded. I remember having some conversations with him about using innovation as a way to improve New Zealand’s economy and move away from reliance on agriculture. Those were some interesting ideas to be exposed to.”

As Kannan was in the final stages of his PhD, Shaun invited him to work on our COVID-19 programme. “One of the things which was great about joining that programme was that it was a team of great scientists, mathematicians and modellers,” says Kannan. “Being in a team-based environment was quite different for me.”

“Working on the COVID-19 programme taught me that a lot of the best science happens when you have not just an individual working on something, but when you get teams of people. The best projects and the best results come from collaboratively working together.”

Kannan is now teaching the same foundational physics course that he took at the University of Auckland all those years ago. He is also a Tuākana mentor, offering academic support to Māori and Pacific students throughout their undergraduate experience.

“Teaching foundational physics has been a rewarding experience. I think that some of the students find it inspiring that somebody who’s done the Tertiary Foundation Certificate before is now teaching them.”

Working in an interdisciplinary environment has exposed Kannan to a range of different methods, techniques and styles of science that he is excited to apply as his career progresses. He teaches his students that acquiring a wide breadth of skills will make them very employable, and shares his insights into what can be achieved through collaboration.

“Throughout my study and time with Te Pūnaha Matatini I’ve seen that you learn the most when you’re working as a team. An individual is not going to solve something like climate change, it’s going to involve more of a collaborative effort.”

“Being exposed to these ideas and approaches at Te Pūnaha Matatini has been one of the biggest influences in what I try to talk to my students about today.”