National Awards 2019

The Science New Zealand National Awards recognise excellence, impact and connection with sectors.

Speaking at the annual Science New Zealand National Awards, held in November 2019 at the Banquet Hall, Parliament in Wellington, the Chair of Science New Zealand, Dr Keith McLea said:

Our annual National Awards Dinner is a special night for Science New Zealand. It is when we recognise and celebrate the people who work within the Crown Research Institutes, and the people with whom they work. In other words, our staff and our clients, colleagues and collaborators.

It is the coming together of these two groups that creates the energy, the ideas and the outcomes that contribute to New Zealand’s wealth and wellbeing on so many measures.

The mission of New Zealand’s Crown Research Institutes requires a mix of research and application that translates into real world outcomes. That shows up in areas as diverse as better environments; confident, resilient communities; ambitious businesses; evidence-based policies.

So, we celebrate the aspiration and the achievement. We do so in three categories and this year introduce a new category – a Supreme Award. The 3 categories reflect the mission and values of CRIs.

The first category is for Early Career Researchers. These colleagues are vital to the future of science in New Zealand and critical to the CRIs' constant drive for excellence and impact. We attract young researchers from around the world. We mentor or co-supervise anywhere between 450 and 650 master’s and PhD candidates annually. We partner with universities in joint graduate schools and programmes and have joint appointments with New Zealand and overseas universities. Our early career researchers are also re-shaping diversity in our institutes and the wider system.

The second category is for teams. Teams are the environment in which science is developed, challenged, and implemented. Our teams are multi-disciplinary, ranging across the natural and social sciences, technologists and technicians, and people who are skilled in translating that knowledge into commercial or other outcomes. Our teams are often multi-institutional, ensuring we leverage our areas of excellence with those of others, to the greater benefit of our clients and communities.

The third category is for individuals we recognise for lifetime achievement or a significant achievement. Even in team-based environments, an individual can stand out for their contribution. For CRIs, it may be in research insight, or perhaps in translating ideas into impact at the end of the process. Often it involves working closely with our industry or sector partners. In whatever way, it is about outcomes that build a better New Zealand and make a difference in people’s lives.

As Crown-owned research institutes we share a common purpose that is unique within the national tapestry of research, science and innovation. We are the only organisations mandated by an Act of Parliament to do research to benefit New Zealand, promoting and disseminating that research, and to do so by pursuing excellence, best ethical practice and social responsibility.

Of course, research is inherently global and so CRIs are also actively engaged with colleagues and places around the world. It must be so if we are to remain true to our mission of advancing New Zealand through the best of science.

It is said that an unexamined life is not worth living. Organisations too must continually assess where they sit within the dynamics of the current time and place, and how they will help shape, adapt, take leadership to create new futures, new possibilities and be responsive to new challenges.

For CRIs, it is all about the work – the mission we have and our ambition to put our skills, our knowledge of science, markets and global trends, and our national and worldwide networks to the service of New Zealand.

How can we better help our communities, our sectors, our nation be more resilient, more productive, more sustainable? The Awardees demonstrate the many ways those questions are being addressed.

For some time now the CRIs have also been working collectively on some other big issues which are critical to New Zealand’s future. One is about the future of work and the changing nature of science.

How do these mega drivers alter the possibilities and environment for our work, our people? The CRIs are two-thirds of the nation’s publicly-funded science researchers in our areas of work; we play a unique role in mission-led research, be it for the public good or transformative commercial activity.

Our people love doing the work that we do, because of that role.

We are also the immediate strike force when disasters or emergencies require a science response.

Our workforce is far more diverse than ever before, in age, gender, ethnicity. This will only increase, and so CRIs must continue to be places where talent wants to work. It involves a longer-term view of how to develop our people, matching their expectations and ensuring that they have the right resources and opportunities throughout their careers.

In a global marketplace for talent, we must aspire to be the best in what we do.  Through having the best people and facilities, New Zealand businesses, industries, communities and government have access to the world’s best science, knowledge, ideas and technologies.

A second area of focus has been on enhancing relationships with and for Māori and enhancing Māori participation and leadership in Crown Research Institutes.

Aotearoa New Zealand is the only place in the world where Mātauranga Māori is fundamental to our knowledge base, our understanding of the world around us. It reflects our place – it is also a source of competitive advantage globally as we find ways to align and respect both indigenous and western science systems.

So CRIs are encouraging more Māori researchers, more Māori-led and Māori-informed research, and greater awareness amongst non-Māori of the value and insights to be gained from closer collaboration and partnerships.

This evening’s Awards remind us again of the truth in the well-known whakataukī:

He aha te mea nui o te ao. He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata. Let us celebrate the most important thing in the world – the people, the people, the people.