Kate's Blog

Summer internship with Toha

27 September 2022

Toha and Te Pūnaha Matatini are offering a summer internship in biodiversity and conservation over the 2022-2023 summer period.

Toha is an Aotearoa New Zealand-based start-up that is building a marketplace to support environmental action. Toha is headquartered in Tairāwhiti but has offices in Auckland and Wellington as well.

The successful applicant for this internship will start work on a Biodiversity Roadmap for Toha. This is a set of documents which surveys the current literature on protecting and regenerating terrestrial biodiversity in Aotearoa and identifies:

  1. Current best practice in this space.
  2. The most urgent current scientific questions to be resolved to further refine best practice.

You will be supervised by Dr Lucy Stewart, a senior scientist at Toha, who is based in Wellington.

Location

This is a remote-first position, but ideally you will also be based in (or willing to relocate to) the Wellington area.

Financial details

You will be paid $7,200 (after tax) for 10 weeks of full-time work.

Eligibility

The ideal candidate will have recently completed or be about to complete a PhD in biodiversity/conservation.

Necessary skills include:

  • Literature review and analysis
  • Clear and succinct writing
  • Ability to collaborate and discuss work with colleagues
  • Willingness to learn about operating in a market/business space

How to apply

Send your CV and a one-page cover letter to tepunahamatatini@auckland.ac.nz.

Due date

Sunday 23 October 2022

Summer internship with Te Hiku Media

27 September 2022

Te Hiku Media and Te Pūnaha Matatini are offering a summer internship for an aspiring data scientist over the 2022-2023 summer period.

Te Hiku is a charitable media organisation, collectively belonging to the Far North iwi of Ngāti Kuri, Te Aupouri, Ngai Takoto, Te Rārawa and Ngāti Kahu. The station is an iwi communications hub for iwi radio, online TV and media services. Māori language revitalisation is a core focus of Te Hiku Media, as is archiving and training.

Te Hiku’s vision is:

“He reo tuku iho, he reo ora” – Living language transmitted inter-generationally.

and its mission is:

“Whakatōkia, poipoia kia matomato te reo Māori o ngā haukāinga o Te Hiku o Te Ika”- Instil, nurture and proliferate the Māori Language unique to haukāinga of Te Hiku o Te Ika.

This summer you can work with Te Hiku Media on one of two projects:

Project one

Investigating and implementing solutions to pre-process te reo Māori text corpora to align with Te Taura Whiri o Te Reo Māori orthographic conventions. You’ll use data science methods to identify common misalignments and gain experience working on and training machine-learning models.

Project Two

Investigating new tools, best practices and security analysis tools to enhance Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery pipelines at Te Hiku Media. You’ll use cutting-edge tools and gain experience in the DevOps field. Some tools we use are Github Actions, Docker, Kubernetes, Terraform & AWS.

Location

These projects are led by Te Hiku and hosted by Te Pūnaha Matatini. You can work remotely, or based in Wellington, Auckland or Tauranga. You will be supervised by Te Hiku’s project leaders and co-supervised by a Te Pūnaha Matatini investigator.

Financial details

You will be paid a tax-free stipend of $7,200 for 10 weeks of full-time work.

Eligibility

  • Experience in Computer Science
  • Knowledge of te reo Māori me ngā tikanga Māori is preferred, but not required
  • Experience with scripting languages such as Python is preferred for project one, but not required
  • Experience with Continuous Integration tools is preferred for project two, but not required

How to apply

Send your CV and a one-page cover letter to tepunahamatatini@auckland.ac.nz.

Due date

Sunday 23 October 2022

Postdoctoral Fellowship in dynamics on networks

Applications are invited for a Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at the University of Auckland, to join a research team working on modelling and understanding the dynamics of processes on multilayer and multiplex networks.

There is growing understanding that dynamics on real-world networks are often moderated or influenced by additional factors, which themselves occur on networks and with feedback loops between the processes on the two networks. These processes can occur either across a single node set with multiple edge types (multiplex networks), or multiple distinct node sets, with different edge types within and between the node sets (multilayer networks).

This project aims to understand how dynamics on networks are affected by the multilayer and multiplex network structures and by different network topologies arising in different applications, for example, by considering how behavioural dynamics can affect contagion in networks of epidemic spread. While the project is centered around spreading processes on networks, and particularly disease spread, there is latitude to investigate the dynamics on, and of, networks more broadly, and the postdoctoral fellow will have the opportunity to develop their own research interests and projects.

Eligibility

We are happy to consider applicants from a diverse range of fields including mathematics, engineering, physics, computer science and statistics. Familiarity with network science and scientific computation is highly desirable.

An interest in epidemiology will be an advantage for this project, but no prior knowledge is required. The successful candidate will hold, or expect to complete before starting the position, a PhD in their disciplinary area.

Applicants from all countries and backgrounds are actively encouraged to apply, however you will need to be able to obtain a visa that allows you to live and work in Aotearoa New Zealand before beginning the position.

Members of underrepresented groups are very welcome, as are researchers with families. Our research group aims to achieve work-life balance within a productive scientific environment.

Location

You will be based at Waipapa Taumata Rau – the University of Auckland, and will be joining a team led by Dr Dion O’Neale (Department of Physics) and Associate Professor Claire Postlethwaite (Department of Mathematics).

The 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.

The expertise of our researchers spans the breadth of human knowledge, from computational sciences to environmental economics, and from linguistics to Indigenous philosophy to mathematical biology. This deeply transdisciplinary approach characterises Te Pūnaha Matatini and is unique within the 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.

Te Pūnaha Matatini has an active whānau group which supports early career researchers, committed to the Te Pūnaha Matatini values of manaakitanga and whakawhanaungatanga..

Contact

Informal enquiries are welcome by email:

Financial details

The salary for a Research Fellow at the University of Auckland in 2023 is set at between $86,979 to $103,904, depending on the track record of the applicant.

Funding for the position is for a maximum of two years, with an end date of no later than the end of 2024.

Start date

Start date is flexible but would preferably be before the end of December 2022.

Due date

Applications must be submitted online by 12 October 2022.

 

Mobility, curiosity and creativity at science and engineering expo

Mobility, curiosity and creativity at science and engineering expo

15 September 2022

Students from Te Atatū Intermediate experience a virtual walk through of the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Auckland.

Over three days in September, students at Te Atatū Intermediate experienced science and engineering at an expo featuring virtual reality (VR), robot spheres, and popcorn and candy floss machines.

This expo was designed to foster mobility, curiosity and creativity. These are the three themes that Tony Nemaia’s masters research with Te Pūnaha Matatini has identified as being important for Māori and Pasifika success in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

The expo was a collaboration between Tony and Ameera Danford from the South Pacific Indigenous Engineering Students (SPIES) network from the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Auckland. It was run at Te Atatū Community Centre and Te Atatū Intermediate by students from SPIES and Te Atatū Intermediate.

The expo started as a koha back to Te Atatū Intermediate for their partnership in the ‘Tales of Diversity’ project that Tony’s masters research is part of. It quickly turned into a real-world example of creating narratives about science and engineering.

One of the central activities was a VR walkthrough to demystify the University of Auckland and its STEM environment. This was a unique and incredibly engaging experience for people at the expo.

A teacher aide commented that it was great to see Māori and Pacific students from Te Atatū Intermediate featured in the VR footage. The VR experience piqued the interest of Māori and Pacific students to visit the University of Auckland.

 

Students from Te Atatū Intermediate have a tutu with robot spheres.

Mobility, curiosity and flexibility were on full display throughout the expo. Tony observed two Māori students mesmerised by the wonders of a 3D printer. Two days later he discussed the possibilities of having a tutu with a 3D printer:

Tony: Would you like to have a go with a 3D printer?
Student (smiling): Yes (emphatically)
Tony: Would you like to design something and print it?
Student (still smiling): Yes (still emphatically)

Tony Nemaia (taking photo) and Mike O’Sullivan (at back) from the Tales of Diversity project team take the SPIES team out to dinner to say ngā mihi for the expo.

It was an exhausting, but extremely satisfying event. Ngā mihi nui to Ameera and our SPIES contributors: Dominic Swann, Audrey Faleata, Fatai Lotulelei, Erene Punefu, Sophiara Evile and Ryan Saena.

The team would like to acknowledge the important contributions of Te Ahi Hangarau Technology Hub and SkillsVR. Te Ahi Hangarau Technology Hub enabled the concept of VR to flourish with Tony and the Te Atatū Intermediate students and SkillsVR took the VR experience to the next level for the expo.

 

What students had to say about the expo in Te Atatu Intermediate’s newsletter

Throughout the past three days, the students of Te Atatū Intermediate have experienced VR, robot spheres, and popcorn and candy floss machines. While participating in each activity, students got to learn about science and engineering.

In the VR, students got to experience the University of Auckland and see a group of kids from Te Atatū Intermediate participating. It was very weird but cool seeing ourselves in the VR and hearing everyone saying “oh I see Matua Tony”. That was very funny hearing all of them saying that.

Ameera from SPIES taught every group about how the fancy popcorn and cotton candy machine works.

We also got to learn about robot spheres and how to use them and what they do. For the robots you could challenge yourself with the coding and programming part, or you could just have fun and play around with them. Some groups of students from TAI had ideas of having races with the robots, and that was very interesting because we haven’t had anyone do that before and that was very exciting that they thought of that.

We all really loved the expo along with the activities, and learning about them was really exciting.

Written by Olivia, Sophia and Wahi

How maramataka can guide kaitiakitanga of awa and moana

How maramataka can guide kaitiakitanga of awa and moana

Te Kahuratai Painting on the hoe of Ngahiraka Mai Tawhiti, sailing through Te Moana o Pikopiko-i-whiti.

19 August 2022

Te Kahuratai Painting (Ngāti Manu, Te Popoto, Ngāpuhi) is exploring how maramataka can guide Ngāti Manu kaitiakitanga of awa and moana.

For his Master of Marine Conservation project, Te Kahuratai Painting explored the interconnection between Ngāti Manu kaitiakitanga and maramataka, and how research practice in marine conservation can be guided by maramataka and grounded in whakapapa.

Maramataka is the Māori lunar-stellar-ecological calendar that uses the phases of the moon, the rising of stars in the morning and the timing of ecological phenomena to understand and relate to the environment around us in Aotearoa New Zealand. The revitalisation of maramataka is thriving in Te Ao Māori at the moment, led by maramataka experts like Rereata Makiha, Rangi Mātāmua and Rikki Solomon.

Te Kahuratai was supervised by Dr Dan Hikuroa and Dr Tara McAllister, both principal investigators at Te Pūnaha Matatini, and his mahi was funded by a masters scholarship from Te Pūnaha Matatini.

“It was really me exploring two things,” says Te Kahuratai, “my love of maramataka, and of my hapū Ngāti Manu.”

“Our hapū, being in the valley, is well connected to our forests and our river, but the moana was a gap for me, so I thought I would study marine conservation to fill that gap to help to reconstruct maramataka with our hapū.”

A group of Ngāti Manu and manuhiri on Te Awa Tapu o Taumarere.

The maramataka system of knowledge includes tātai arorangi Māori astronomy, knowledge of the lunar phases, knowledge of the tides and weather patterns, as well as the timing of the flowering of different trees or the migration of different birds, or the running of fish up and down a river. “That can lead to a very specific and quite deep knowledge of our environment,” says Te Kahuratai.

“Kaitiakitanga is often just seen as conservation by Māori, but our understanding of kaitiakitanga is so much deeper than that.”

The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic prevented Te Kahuratai from holding a planned week-long wānanga at his marae, talking about and looking at stars, learning about the lunar-stellar-ecological calendar, and watching specific marine phenomena.

“What happened instead was a really theoretical exploration of how other people have recreated their own maramataka, because there’s more than 500 across the country,” says Te Kahuratai. “It’s really specific – a coastal maramataka versus an inland maramataka would be different, from one coast to the other could be different, one side of the mountain to the other side of the mountain could be different.”

In his thesis, Te Kahuratai linked existing maramataka for the Ngāti Manu rohe of Karetu and Taumarere in the Bay of Islands with the teachings of maramataka experts. He conceptualised pūtaiao as Kaupapa Māori science, developed a framework grounded in kaitiakitanga and maramataka for marine conservation, and asked how we can use knowledge like maramataka to change that way that Kaupapa Māori research is conducted.

“If you’re researching it, you should be practicing it,” says Te Kahuratai.

Tara says that “it was a privilege to work with Te Kahuratai on his master’s thesis. In Te Ao Māori we often talk about tuākana/teina relations, and in this case Te Kahuratai was the tuākana and I was the teina, and I learnt so much from engaging with his work.”

Te Kahuratai was gifted maramataka from Taumarere by Rereata Makiha.

“I worked with three different manuscripts,” explains Te Kahuratai. “One was written in the early 1900s. One was based on an early manuscript but was reprinted for schools back in the 1980s, and the third was a really old one from before the Māori written system was formalised, and it was based on symbols.”

“The level of detail in them is crazy. They name the specific nights that you should expect the bulk of īnanga whitebait to run, specific nights for planting vegetables that grow in the ground, specific nights for planting vegetables that grow above the ground, specific nights for planting vegetables that like a lot of water, or good times to use particular methods in specific places to do certain types of fishing.”

Matariki from Puketohunoa Pā.

Te Kahuratai is planning to explore these maramataka as a PhD project, to see if the changing climate affects the guidance from ngā wā ō mua many decades ago, and investigate how they could be updated for the more unpredictable contemporary environmental conditions caused by a warming planet.

Dan is excited about this research because of “the scope, the privileging of deep knowledge of a specific place, tested through time, and its application in contemporary times, and how it can inform conservation practices.”

Te Kahuratai’s thesis concludes with a framework that will guide this PhD research, based on the whakataukī “Tuia ki te rangi, tuia ki te whenua, tuia ki te moana, tuia ki te here tangata, ka rongo te po, ka rongo te ao,” which means: “weave towards the sky, towards the land, towards the waters, and weave to the binding thread of people, and then you will come to understand the divisions of night and day”.

For Tara, “Te Kahuratai’s thesis is a koha, especially for Ngāti Manu, filled with insight and provocations to rethink the way in which we do our research.”

 

Maths Craft in a Box is shipping now

Maths Craft in a Box is shipping now

17 August 2022

Maths teachers in Aotearoa New Zealand can now order Maths Craft in a Box, shipped free to your school.

Maths Craft in a Box is a free and entirely self-contained classroom resource, dedicated to exploring the wondrous world of mathematics through the engaging medium of craft.

The first edition of Maths Craft in a Box is dedicated to exploring the fascinating world of fractals in the classroom, including enough craft materials to build a large fractal sculpture, packs of student Zines (workbooks) providing a beautifully illustrated introduction to the mathematics of fractals, and custom-made online instructional videos. The Box includes enough content to easily fill several lessons, is ideal for years 7-13, and can be entirely student-led.

The Maths Craft in a Box team is made up of Te Pūnaha Matatini investigators and Maths Craft New Zealand founders Dr Jeanette McLeod and Dr Phil Wilson, Te Pūnaha Matatini investigator and designer Jo Bailey, and educational researcher Dr David Pomeroy.

They put together Maths Craft in a Box to help teachers anywhere in Aotearoa New Zealand bring mathematical thinking into the classroom at a crucial age for tamariki. This creative and free resource brings mathematics to life as a subject. Students who already love maths will find something new and enriching in the Box, and a pilot project in Ōtautahi Christchurch showed that most children who don’t like maths felt differently after engaging with the Box.

One of the 20 Menger sponges you can build with Maths Craft in a Box.

Maths Craft also hope to change some long-held misconceptions about mathematics. While elsewhere in the world maths is seen as a gateway subject for a wide variety of important careers, in Aotearoa it is still common for children to be told that if they are good at maths they should become engineers or teachers.

We do need more engineers and more teachers, but we also need more physicists, statisticians, data scientists, computer scientists, programmers, mathematical modellers, actuaries, climate modellers, and many more besides, all of which rely on advanced mathematics.

In the last few years we have seen the crucial role played by mathematicians in the government’s response to Covid-19. We need more mathematically-trained people in Aotearoa as we respond to future threats of disease, climate change, and cyber security.

If you are a maths teacher in Aotearoa New Zealand and are ready to use Maths Craft in a Box in your classroom, you can place your order today.

 

PhD scholarship on mathematical modelling of te reo Māori

Nau mai ngā hua o te wānanga! Applications are invited for a PhD scholarship to work on a project on mathematical modelling of the trajectory of te reo Māori (the Māori language).

There have been numerous interventions over the last 40 years to stop the decline of te reo Māori as part of a movement to revitalise the indigenous language of Aotearoa New Zealand. In 2018, the New Zealand Government set a national target of one million speakers of te reo Māori by 2040, and 150,000 Māori using te reo as their primary language. However, there have been no reports in recent history that provide a complete picture of the health of te reo Māori and its revitalisation, so we are in the dark as to our ‘starting point’, let alone our best strategy to reach this goal.

This project will develop and validate a dynamic mathematical model to improve our understanding of the current trajectory of the Māori language in terms of the number of speakers and what impact possible interventions may have on that trajectory. This will help identify what resources and strategies are required to meet government targets and support self-determined community approaches.

We will use this model to test the effect of various interventions, such as making te reo Māori a compulsory part of the school curriculum, prioritising language immersion schooling, and investing in teachers. Our modelling will draw upon expert knowledge in Māori language revitalisation and comparable interventions that have been implemented for other endangered languages, such as Welsh.

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. Students from a diverse range of fields are encouraged to apply. The successful candidate will hold, or expect to complete soon, an honours or masters level qualification, including some advanced-level study of mathematics, statistics, or a closely related subject. A strong interest in te reo Māori and/or language revitalisation is essential, but no formal prior knowledge is required.

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

Location

The best place for you to be based during your studies is at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, although there is flexibility on this. You will be jointly supervised by Professor Michael Plank (School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Canterbury) and Dr Rachael Ka’ai-Mahuta (Te Ipukarea Research Institute, Auckland University of Technology).

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 thought, 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

Informal enquiries are welcome by email:

Financial details

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

*This rate is set by the University of Auckland, and will increase to $33,000 per year from 1 January 2023.

Start date

  • On or before 1 January 2023

How to apply

Send an email expressing your interest, along with a CV, academic record, and list of three potential referees to Michael Plank at michael.plank@canterbury.ac.nz or Rachael Ka’ai-Mahuta at rachael.kaai-mahuta@aut.ac.nz.

Due date

Applications will be considered until the position is filled. Applications received by Sunday 18 September 2022 will receive full consideration.

A summer of machine learning and data sovereignty

A summer of machine learning and data sovereignty

1 July 2022

Dion Wharerau spent the summer as an intern with Te Hiku Media, working to improve their automatic speech recognition model for te reo Māori.

Dion Wharerau has enjoyed maths since his first years at Kaikohe West School. His teachers supported him by sending him to older classes during maths time, and says that really reinforced his enjoyment of it.

These days he is studying for a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science at the University of Auckland. He says that programming is the perfect combination of problem solving and creativity for him. Dion continues to enjoy studying maths at university, and is disappointed that he won’t be able to fit in all the courses that he is interested in before he graduates.

Last year Dion heard about a summer internship with Te Hiku Media and Te Pūnaha Matatini through the Computer Science Tuākana programme.

Te Pūnaha Matatini is a Centre of Research Excellence in complex systems, hosted by the University of Auckland. Te Hiku is a charitable media organisation, collectively belonging to the Far North iwi of Ngāti Kuri, Te Aupouri, Ngai Takoto, Te Rārawa and Ngāti Kahu.

Māori language revitalisation is a core focus of Te Hiku, and they are working to enable a sovereign digital future for Indigenous languages. One of their key projects is the Papa Reo natural language processing platform.

“I saw the internship and applied for it straight away! I remember going through Te Pūnaha Matatini’s website and really liking everything I read – about problem solving and complexity.”

“I liked the slogan: Complexity is at our heart.”

Dion spent the summer of 2021-2022 working with the Papa Reo team to apply DeepSpeech augmentations to their automatic speech recognition model for te reo Māori.

“My project was to increase the robustness of the machine learning model,” says Dion. “I worked with a lot of amazing people, and I learned a lot along the way. I made lots of mistakes, and I worked with some really amazing software.”

“A big mistake that I corrected early on was asking for help a lot more often. Everyone at Te Hiku was incredibly helpful! Once I started asking for help, things got sorted immediately.”

Central to the natural language processing work that Te Hiku does is a staunch belief that each community must maintain control and sovereignty of their data.

Learning about data sovereignty was new territory for Dion. “Data sovereignty was something I’d never thought about before, because I’d never really worked in a real-life situation that involved other people’s data.”

“I’m incredibly grateful to Te Hiku and Te Pūnaha Matatini, because my internship was a great experience.”

 

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

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.