Recent Comments

  • National Science Challenges: Survey Results   19 weeks 2 days ago

    Over my career I've seen a whole bunch of new funding systems. They are all well intentioned (well mostly). Each time we face at least two years of chaos where nobody knows exactly what is expected in the new grant applications. The NSC is yet another round of new funding tools, this time confounded by the problem of a "challenge" designed by committee. In five years time we'll all know what is expected of an NSC application, we'll all understand what needs to go in and what should be hidden. Some really good science will be done. But for two or three years we'll all lose time and effort and money figuring the system out. However, history strongly suggests that the NSC will actually not change the science landscape of New Zealand in any fundamental way. Scientists adapt to each new funding scheme. We all try and do the best for New Zealand and the world in spite of the funding regime. Given the cost of changing funding systems is high and given that we already have/had some excellent/adequate funding tools, then creating the NSCs would appear to serve no scientific, social nor economic purpose. That for me is the biggest problem, at a time where funding for science is cripplingly low, any new money should go into established proven funding systems, if for no other reason than to minimise the cost.

  • NZAS Survey on the National Science Challenges   19 weeks 3 days ago

    Over my career I've seen a whole bunch of new funding systems. They are all well intentioned (well mostly). Each time we face at least two years of chaos where nobody knows exactly what is expected in the new grant applications. The NSC is yet another round of new funding tools, this time confounded by the problem of a "challenge" designed by committee. In five years time we'll all know what is expected of an NSC application, we'll all understand what needs to go in and what should be hidden. Some really good science will be done. But for two or three years we'll all lose time and effort and money figuring the system out. However, history strongly suggests that the NSC will actually not change the science landscape of New Zealand in any fundamental way. Scientists adapt to each new funding scheme. We all try and do the best for New Zealand and the world in spite of the funding regime. Given the cost of changing funding systems is high and given that we already have/had some excellent/adequate funding tools, then creating the NSCs would appear to serve no scientific, social nor economic purpose. That for me is the biggest problem, at a time where funding for science is cripplingly low, any new money should go into established proven funding systems, if for no other reason than to minimise the cost.

  • National Science Challenges: Survey Results   19 weeks 3 days ago

    Kia ora - I would be keen to write about this survey for our weekly TEU newsletter, Tertiary Update. Is there anyone at the Association to get some public comment on this survey and the National Science Challenges? Regards, Stephen

  • NZAS Conference 2014: Science and Society   36 weeks 3 days ago

    Well done. I see that the next generation has well and truly picked up the ball.

    From an old guarder - Janet Grieve

  • Agile science in a small country   1 year 9 weeks ago

    That was a really nice and interesting piece of article. But being free of an overbearing and burgeoning management structure should allow that to happen. The system as a whole would very quickly become subject to Darwinian pressures. We must tame the system first. Scam Support OmniTech

  • Hard talk about fresh water   1 year 26 weeks ago

    Good article and point, but there is a worrying truth behind the lawyer comparison. Science is sadly not heeded in urgent matters like ecological degradation because its proponents behave badly elsewhere. We are not in a world were all scientists agree on everything. Research in many fields cause many to be behind the latest research outside their core specialisation. Publication bias is a distorting factor. Sadly it is sometimes those scientists who are not up to date on research who claim that there is consensus. Recent local examples hereof include the fluoride and GMO debates. Many reputable journals and institutes like Harvard School of Public health have published detailed meta studies confirming credibility of the research suggesting a link between artificial water fluoridation and harmful side effects. Most OECD countries do not use the practice for those reasons. Still local some scientists claim there is no research proving harm and much proof of harmlessness. Likewise the expected benefits of GMO have been studied in great detail by the union of Concerned Scientists and their network of nearly 20 000 scientists and proven to be minimal compared to the risks. Some New Zealand scientists still claim there is scientific consensus on the benefits and general harmlessness of GMO. Europeans have woken up to the facts that scientists do not all have the final answers for everything yet and their opinions need to be compared. The New Zealand practice of regarding one scientist's opinion as the infallible truth and representative of the entire scientific community is very dangerous. We have great scientists in NZ, can need to read their research rather than try to worship them

  • Science vs 'developing technology'   2 years 10 weeks ago

    I agree. You can only hope the government realises that the ATI is not the complete answer to our woes.

  • Does NZ have a 'PhD student problem'?   2 years 31 weeks ago

    I did read that study and it does raise some interesting concerns, particularly those concerning PhD student becomeing 'disillusioned' with science in general as they approach the end of their PhDs. It's true, supervisors should be better trained in giving career advice, but that's yet ANOTHER thing for them to do ontop of everything else - perhaps the academic institution should push career advice from a perspective that's not an academic's? Personally I'm excited to see, Kaiarahi beginning in NZ (a group dedicated to finding non-academic menors for interested PhD students) to encourage the broadening of student's horizons. But even this is only a small solution for a select few student who choose to participate in it.
    Personally, I would love some clarity on what a future science career might look like (contrasted to those that exist at the moment). Will we continue to have 'academimcs', industry researchers, etc or will we move to a single scientist occupying multiple roles, i.e. lecturer, researcher and commercializer at different times of the day or week? For instance, I would dearly love to pursue a full-time career in science, but this currently doesn't appear to be a valid career path for myself and about 90% of my peers. So assuming I do manage to find employment in NZ post-graduation in industry or a non-science job (even that'sa pretty large assumption) - will there ever be any role, even in a part time way, for me to continue to participate in science? Or are all the specific science skills I have accuulated during my PhD doomed to go to waste?
    In a world were people are free to travel and connect with researchers worldwide, to collaborate with those from all ends of the Earth, from all fields and disciplines - will science and research keep looking like it does now? Or can we possibly change what it means to be a scientist, and in doing so retain and USE the full gambit of a PhD student's skills and ambition in NZ? Because if we dont, overseas will always be a viable option!

  • Does NZ have a 'PhD student problem'?   2 years 31 weeks ago

    You may be interested in this study published last week. The authors identify essentially the same issue in the US that you describe here in NZ.

    - Most science PhD students favour a career in academia, although this preference slightly decreases when approaching the end of the PhD.

    - Students perceive a bias towards academic careers from their supervisors. Probably not intentional, but that is just what the road they are familiar with.

    - Mechanisms are needed to help students weigh up the costs and benefits of a PhD, and to help supervisors give better career advice. 

  • Want New Zealand to be Prosperous? Build Pathways for Emerging Scientists!   2 years 34 weeks ago

    As much as i would like to see governments and universities solve this problem, i also see that some of the resonsibility for preserving their futures must lie with the emerging scientists themselves. If we want to make things easier for them, we maust make it clear what their options are, as even at the close fo the conference many still have no idea. Setting them up with non-academic mentors, which is the standard in many other career pathways, to provide them with feedback on their longterm career choices and prospects is one way to do this. Another is to expose them to the vast world outside of pure science during the course of their PhDs and make them realise how tantalising and exciting it can be. We must exports PhDs from the ivory tower if we are to benefit from therr skills and to retain them here in NZ.

  • Hon David Carter and David Shearer confirmed to speak at 2012 NZAS conference   2 years 35 weeks ago

    This part of the conference was very disappointing. David Carter was dreadful; reading a pre-prepared speech, then not taking questions. David Shearer was more engaging as a speaker, but didn't say anything!

  • Agile science in a small country   2 years 39 weeks ago

    Thanks Greg. I think that group research has some analogies to software development. My experience in managing software development projects over a 37 year IT career is that small, focused, agile groups with good people can (almost) always beat the large groups. Give me 4 good programmers and a couple of good support staff and we will be much more productive (by often factors of 10 or more) than much larger groups. In fact the research in software development shows that beyond a relatively small size (around 12-17) the losses involved with adding more people are greater than any benefits gained from additional "man-hours".

    Large projects are best broken up into smaller sub-projects that can be assigned to agile teams.

    Of course, the analogy is not perfect because in software development the equipment needed for development is often relatively small in terms of capital expenditure and where large resources are required (such as an international network of servers) then these resources can be effectively and reasonably cheaply rented from firms such as Amazon. With this in mind, perhaps some emphasis in scientific research should be given to setting up services that "rent out" access to capital intensive equipment needed for research. But even here, technology is coming to the rescue in many instances with cheap equipment now coming onto the market that is affordable by individuals that previously cost hundreds of thousand or millions of dollars.

  • 2012 NZAS conference: Do Emerging Scientists have a Future in New Zealand?   2 years 40 weeks ago

    Let's look at other 'small' nations and compare. At least two countries, Portugal and Singapore, that I know of offer PhD students fellowships to attend top universities overseas (not just in specific universities in the UK). I believe that Singapore has an excellent system that helps to get these top students home, and to establish their careers at a mid-level stage. They require the award recipients to return home, but in addition they provide post-doctoral funding for five years. In this way they avoid the 'brain drain'. If NZ establishes a clear consistent vision for NZ science policy that gets students into the targeted field from the start, it seems to me that you could avoid the current situation where many talented 'emerging scientists' feel that they cannot return to NZ without harming their careers or switching fields. I look forward to reading the outcomes of this conference.

  • Agile science in a small country   2 years 40 weeks ago

    Hello Pablo, thanks for your comment on my post. Email me at greg@bodekerscientific.com and we can talk.

  • Agile science in a small country   2 years 40 weeks ago

    Greg, I really enjoyed reading your article. I believe that there are people that will be happy with a stable job in a large oranisation while other people will prefer the challenges of a small dynamyc company. Personally, I prefer the second and I admire your courage in taking the leap. I would love to learn how did you go about starting your own scientific company.

  • Agile science in a small country   2 years 41 weeks ago

    Your question of whether more science could be done by small groups, as opposed to large CRIs, is a good one to ask, if nothing else because it prompts us to consider another approach to NZ ScInc. But I’m not as optimistic as you.

    I agree that smaller companies could be more nimble, due to less rigid top-down control and organisational inertia, but in some respects they can be less nimble too. Consider a large research organisation. It typically has ready access to a wider skill base, or the capital to acquire a wider skill base at short notice, so that when new opportunities arise it can adjust accordingly.

    And who needs a permanent position? Well, a lot of people would like one, making that career more attractive in the first place. And from a different angle, society benefits greatly from them. If you don’t have to learn new things, you don’t have to waste resources reinventing a wheel. The security of a permanent position allows you to take more risks and be more imaginative with your research, all else being equal. Hence tenured positions at universities. A permanent position doesn’t necessarily equate to stagnancy.

    On the Darwinian analogy, evolution also has a some counterarguments. If our scientific talent is the gene pool for our research organisms, the failure of an organisation to secure funding when times are tough may lead to the loss of that talent from the broader community. They may leave science or leave New Zealand. Indeed, large organisations can help keep talent in NZ. They shift scientists’ roles around, storing temporarily unneeded talent like a seed bank. Also, while you equate CRIs to behemoths, we could alternatively equate them to generalist organisms with a large gene pool.

  • 2012 NZAS conference: Do Emerging Scientists have a Future in New Zealand?   2 years 43 weeks ago

    As an emerging scientist I look forward to any conclusions drawn.

  • 2012 NZAS conference: Do Emerging Scientists have a Future in New Zealand?   2 years 43 weeks ago

    Do Emerging Scientists have a Future in New Zealand?

    Programme

    Welcome: Shaun Hendy, President NZAS
    Session one: The State of the Nation; Government, Universities and CRIs
    Session two: Policy, Statistics and Fellowships
    Session three: The Emerging Scientists
    Session four: Industry Perspective
    Session five: Panel Discussion
    Session six: Drinks nibbles
     

     

  • Agile science in a small country   2 years 45 weeks ago

    Thanks for responding to my post. So what is your plan now? Try and find a job elsewhere or try and set up your own company? If the latter, I am happy to share my experience of doing that and how to go about doing that. So far I am very happy with having made the decision that I made. It requires a very big leap into the unknown but looking back, the gulf was not that big.

  • Agile science in a small country   2 years 45 weeks ago

    There's some comfort in knowing you're not the only one in this position, but it's very disheartening to know that there are such systemic problems in science.
    Reading the following: 'Such feelings of depression, frustration and disenfranchisement led me more than two years ago to resign from my position... I didn’t resign because I had a better job offer elsewhere or even a position somewhere else. I resigned because I realised just how unhappy I was and that I would rather quit science and be unemployed than to continue as I was.' rang a bell - I've also just resigned, under the same circumstances.
    Speaking with colleagues since I've handed in my notice, I've realised that many of them are experiencing the same problems as I have.

  • Disappearing post-docs   3 years 6 weeks ago

    Although I am a recipient of one of the inaugural Rutherford Discovery Fellowships I certainly strongly support any call for increased postdoctoral funding in New Zealand. Postdoctoral funding was already far too low before the FRST scheme was discontinued. Postdocs are the key members of any good research group. But I think it is dangerous to line up Rutherford Discovery Fellowships with the discontinued FRST postdoctoral scheme as if its an either/or choice -- they don't serve the same purposes.

    I should also point out that as a direct result of my obtaining a Rutherford Discovery Fellowship, my department was able to advertise and appoint a 5-year lectureship that brought a strong NZ researcher back to New Zealand from the USA. This was possible because my department is paying for only a fraction of my salary for the next 5 years. Of course this outcome occurred because in some sense I was willing to spread the wealth of the fellowship by donating my portion of the overheads that would normally have been accessible for spending on my own research. But by working with the Faculty and Department we were able to get a better result: bringing an exceptional talented NZ scientist back to NZ from overseas and build critical mass in my extended research group. I would strongly recommend to my fellow Rutherford Discovery awardees that they consider strategic decision making of this sort when they wield their newfound leverage within their host organizations.

    Alexei

  • Rutherford Fellowship to NZAS Councillor Justin Hodgkiss   3 years 14 weeks ago

    And congratulations to all the 10 Rutherford fellowship winners. A fellowship substantial enough that it will be able to transform careers. See the full announcement here.

     

  • Science for policy - policy for science   3 years 14 weeks ago

    Note that the deadline for abstracts is now October 15th.

  • Disappearing post-docs   3 years 14 weeks ago

    This afternoon, the MSI has already released what appears to be a response to the open letter ... they are planning to review the Rutherford scheme, soon ...

    "MSI is aware that there are concerns in the research sector about support for early to mid-career researchers, including those who have recently finished their doctorates.  In the light of these concerns in the research sector, MSI will be bringing the review forward."

     

     

  • Proposal to enhance access to published scientific research for NZ scientists   4 years 13 weeks ago

    As the author of this proposal, I neglected to mention CRI libraries' existing agreements with the Council of Australian University Librarians (CAUL) and between CRIs. I apologise for this omission, which has given a false impression of the situation in CRIs.