University of Otago tops Marsden funding

Elaine Reese
Elaine Reese
University of Otago scientists will investigate links between between a strong sense of identity and wellbeing among New Zealand adolescents, after Otago researchers topped the country by gaining more than $13.8 million from the Marsden Fund yesterday.

Otago University researchers this year gained 20 grants to pursue cutting-edge projects ranging across sciences and the humanities.

They also achieved their highest annual allocation from the Government fund, which supports curiosity-driven research.

Auckland University researchers gained the second highest amount received by university researchers, about $10.4 million of the record $54 million in overall Marsden funding.

Prof Geoff White, the Otago deputy vice-chancellor, research, said he was "immensely proud" of the the outstanding performance of Otago recipients in the latest round of an "extremely competitive" fund.

The Otago three-year projects include studies into memory mechanisms in brain cells; the potency of immune system responses; geological processes in New Zealand mountains; historical migration into Australia and New Zealand; and planning and resource management by indigenous peoples.

Funding officials said a strong sense of identity helped lead to greater life satisfaction, as well as academic and occupational success.

Otago University psychologist Associate Prof Elaine Reese was awarded an $821,000 grant, spread over three years, to investigate how a sense of identity was formed and whether it is shaped the same way for adolescents in different cultures.

Prof Reese said one important way adolescents formed an identity was through talking with others about their lives, in order to form "life stories".

She aims to establish a link between the adolescents' life stories and their wellbeing in three New Zealand cultures: Maori, European and Chinese.

Researchers led by Prof Reese intend to to ask a total of 270 adolescents aged from 12 to 20 - a total of 90 from each culture- to tell the stories of their lives and report on their wellbeing.

The expectation is that adolescents who tell more coherent and insightful life stories will also experience greater wellbeing.

Given the importance of memory in Maori culture, such life stories may be a special source of resilience for Maori youth.

"I'm thrilled to be able to research this question and I'm also thrilled for my [research] team," Prof Reese said in an interview.

The research was also likely to attract "a lot of international interest", she said.

Other grants for Otago University researchers in Dunedin went to: Prof Cliff Abraham (psychology) $820,000; Dr Istvan Abraham (physiology) $695,000; Prof Peter Anstey (philosophy) $475,000; Prof Sally Brooker (chemistry) $815,000; Assoc Prof Greg Cook ($835,000) and Dr Alex McLellan ($571,000), both microbiology and immunology; Prof David Craw ($730,000), Dr Daphne Lee ($835,000), both geology; Dr Catherine Day ($815,000), Assoc Prof Julian Eaton-Rye ($810,000), Dr Liz Ledgerwood ($818,000), Prof Warren Tate ($868,000), all biochemistry; Prof Angela McCarthy (history) $612,000; Assoc Prof Henrik Moller (Centre for the Study of Food, Agriculture and Environment) $870,000.

Fast Start grants went to Dr Shinichi Nakagawa (zoology), Dr Peter Fineran (microbiology and immunology) ($300,000 each), and to Dr Simone Drichel (English) ($220,000).

At Otago University's Christchurch campus, Dr Mark Hampton gained $855,000, and Assoc Prof Martin Kennedy, also of pathology, received an $816,000 grant.


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