PostGrad & Research

October 2012


Facebook       Tweet

New Zealand research: Question marks and kudos

‘Doctoral candidates have never had it so good.’ That was the moot for The University of Otago’s annual Chamber Debate, which was run as an event for the university’s Graduate Research Month.

Academics went head-to-head with PhD candidates arguing the burdens and benefits of being a doctoral student in this day and age. Despite convincing the audience that PhD candidates had it tougher than ever, the students conceded afterwards that they were sure they had, in fact, never had it so good.

But is this really the case? Many students are feeling increasingly disgruntled about the Government’s decision to withdraw eligibility for the student allowance for postgraduates. The strong opposition from student representatives from Auckland, Waikato, Victoria, and Canterbury universities (pg xx) indicates that this issue remains highly contentious.

Then there are the challenges faced by the research community. Among the many researchers we profile in this issue (pxx), one voices the challenge of “lurching from one hard-to-get grant to another” and questions his career in New Zealand’s “chronically starved science system”. Another reveals his dismay at the lack of funding available, suggesting that world class science is going unfunded.

Yet money is being ploughed into research and a vast number of initiatives are being churned out by the Government. As if to answer the pleas of the late Sir Paul Callaghan for more investment in, and commitment to, science and technology, the new Advanced Technology Institute is tipped to be named after the great scientist himself.

In spite of the renewed vigour towards research and development, many believe there are still too many hurdles, such as unfair tax treatment of patents and a lack of Government support for private sector commercialisation to achieving R&D that will provide the most benefit to New Zealand’s economy.

On a political level, it often feels like parties feel they need to choose between investing in technology or agriculture. Commentators are increasingly voicing their concerns over New Zealand’s reliance on its economic mainstay: the dairy industry.

So in this issue, we decided to take a closer look at the research going into dairying. We examine the individual and collaborative efforts of Lincoln and Massey universities and other institutions like AgResearch and DairyNZ to retain New Zealand’s place as a world leader in this industry. (pxx)

For this issue, there is an emphasis on research that is ‘uniquely New Zealand’. We look at the combined efforts of institutions to understand more about the kiwi. We shed light on the work being done to try and save our flailing kiwifruit industry. While seemingly futile at times, hopeful at others, the attitudes of research organisations are to be commended for continuing their fight against the harmful Psa virus. (pxx)

It is clear from the many success stories emerging from the various postgraduate and research months held at tertiary institutions that New Zealand research is an important and exciting area.

While it can be argued either way whether PhD students and researchers have it easy or not, perhaps a more pertinent question to ponder is: what does the future have in store for New Zealand’s research?

Jude Barback