Tagata Pasifika

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Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Samoan female scholar awarded prestigious $800,000 Rutherford Discovery Fellowship

Dr Siautu-Alefaio Tugia (Samoan lineage from the villages of Matautu-Tai, Sāsina, Manunu ma Fagamalo). Photo: via PMN

Dr Siautu-Alefaio Tugia, Senior Lecturer at the School of Psychology at Massey University,  is one of 10 new research fellows who have been awarded a Rutherford Discovery Fellowship.

The Fellowships support New Zealand’s most talented early-to mid-career researchers to accelerate their research careers in Aotearoa. The Fellowships receive government funding of $8 million per annum and award $800,000 over five years to each research fellow.

Dr Tugia’s research, titled ‘Redefining the humanitarian landscape: Pacific-diasporic disaster resilience’, conceptualises a reset in the humanitarian landscape through recognising the importance of Pacific-diasporic initiatives in Aotearoa New Zealand as a breeding-ground for disaster resilience and community-humanitarian response.

Using Fa’afaletui, a Samoan metaphorical concept of searching for wisdom, Dr Alefaio will analyse concepts and ideas embedded in Pacific-diaspora initiatives to produce two original contributions to contemporary humanitarian, disaster and psychology contexts.

The latest 10 fellows announced in 10th year of Rutherford Discovery Fellowship awards. Photo: Supplied

This is the 10th year that the Rutherford Discovery Fellowships have been awarded.

“Rutherford Discovery Fellowships mark a career turning point, as they allow the recipients to make a leap forward in their research. They also provide inspiration by witnessing the breakthroughs made by a whole community of fellows,” says one of the inaugural fellows, Professor Tylianakis.

Chair of the selection panel Professor Lisa Matisoo-Smith FRSNZ said the high calibre of applicants made it extremely difficult to select 10 new research fellows out of more than 102 who applied.

“In my opinion, after watching the outcome of 10 years’ worth of awards, the Rutherford Discovery Fellowships provide some of the best bang for your buck when it comes to research funding. They provide opportunities for both attracting and retaining the research leaders of the future and giving them the time necessary to really develop not just a research project, but a long-term programme,” says Professor Matisoo-Smith.

Previous Pasifika recipients include Professor Donna Rose Addis, an inaugural fellow, Associate Professor (Philosophy) at Massey University Krushil Watene, of Tongan descent, and Dr Jodie Hunter, Massey University Institute of Education, of Cook Islands descent.

Royal Society Te Apārangi manages the Rutherford Discovery Fellowship programme on behalf of government.

For 2020, the Rutherford Discovery Fellowship recipients are:

  • Siautu Alefaio-Tugia, Massey University, for research titled: Redefining the humanitarian landscape: Pacific-diasporic disaster resilience.
  • Michele Bannister, University of Canterbury, for research titled: Emissaries from the darkness: understanding planetary systems through their smallest worlds.
  • Nathaniel Davis, Victoria University of Wellington, for research titled: Pushing the limits on renewable energy technology through hybrid organic/inorganic nanomaterials
  • Jemma Geoghegan, University of Otago, for research titled: Ecological barriers and drivers of virus emergence.
  • Nathan Kenny, University of Otago (currently Oxford Brookes University, UK) for research titled: Stretched mussels: tracing the genetic basis of resilience to climate change and ocean acidification in cultured green-lipped mussels (kuku) from genome to embryo.
  • Gabor Kereszturi, Massey University, for research titled: Caught in action – volcano surveillance with hyperspectral remote sensing.
  • Libby Liggins, Massey University, for research titled: Tohu of change for Aotearoa New Zealand’s marine biodiversity.
  • Martino Lupini, Victoria University of Wellington, for research titled: Computing the shape of chaos.
  • Jaimie Veale, University of Waikato, for research titled: Health inequities, social determinants of health, and gender affirmation: transgender health research guided by principles of self-determination and informed consent.
  • Adele Williamson, University of Waikato, for research titled: In extremis: how bacteria replicate, repair and diversify their genomes in challenging environments.



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