Inspirational Alumni - Biological Sciences - University of Canterbury - New Zealand

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Inspirational Alumni

Celebrating our people

The UC Biological Sciences Inspirational Alumni award recognises alumni who have made outstanding professional achievements and who have had a positive impact on our community or society. We celebrate trailblazers in their fields whose success and service are a source of inspiration to those that follow.

Our Insprational Alumni inductees are explicitly drawn from a range of early- and mid-career alumni who have made a significant contribution, as well as later-career life-time achievers.

2016 December

Jane Allison

Dr Jane AllisonJane’s goal is to understand the molecular mechanisms that underpin life. To achieve this, she uses computer simulations to explore how biological molecules move and interact.

Jane attended Cashmere High School before attending UC, where she completed a BSc(Hons) in three years. She was awarded the Percival Memorial Prize and the Sir George Grey Senior Scholarship during her studies.

She was then awarded a Woolf Fisher Scholarship for PhD study at Trinity College, University of Cambridge.

While studying at Cambridge Jane broadened her sporting interests. She captained the Cambridge University Women’s Cricket team, scoring a century at Lord’s, and represented Trinity and the university in football, cross-country and rowing.

In 2007 Jane took up a Postdoctoral Researcher position at ETH Zürich in Switzerland, where she continued to row, winning a gold medal at the European University Championships.

Jane accepted a Lecturer position at Massey University in 2012, and in 2016 she began a 5 year Rutherford Discovery Fellowship to pursue new frontiers in biomolecular simulation.

Her research bridges the gap between computational predictions and experimental observations, and she has pioneered the use of structural modelling and simulation to investigate evolutionary relationships.

Jane regularly communicates her research to a wide range of different audiences and is a strong advocate for early career researchers.

2016 April

Hugh Wilson

Hugh WilsonHugh is a world-renowned botanist, conservationist and cyclist.

Born in Timaru, Hugh moved to Christchurch with his family when he and his twin sister Hilary were 5. He attended Elmwood District School, where he began drawing birds and dreaming of the bush. He then attended St Andrews College, where he was Dux in 1962.

The following year Hugh taught in Sarawak with Volunteer Service Abroad before returning to Christchurch to attend UC, where he completed degrees in both arts and science.

Hugh decided to bypass further study, and conducted botanical surveys of the Aoraki Mount Cook region and then of Stewart Island / Rakiura, and then. This was followed in 1980s by a 1331 plot, five year botanical survey of Banks Peninsula, culminating in a Protected Natural Areas Programme report for the Department of Conservation.

Since 1987 Hugh has managed Hinewai Reserve on Banks Peninsula, a privately owned nature reserve.

Hugh has written and illustrated over a dozen books, including field guides to the wild plants of Mount Cook National Park (1978, 1996) and Stewart Island (1982, 1994) and recently the richly illustrated Plant Life on Banks Peninsula (2013).

He was awarded the Loder Cup in 1987 for his work with New Zealand flora, followed in 1991 by the Linnaean Society of London Bloomer Medal for his contribution to botany. He is a research fellow of the Koiata Botanical Trust and Landcare Research - Manaaki Whenua, and a director of the Banks Peninsula Track Company.

2015 December

Dr Sara Kross

Dr Sara KrossAs a conservation biologist, Sara is interested in farming landscapes and human-wildlife conflicts and was also a founding member of the Marlborough Falcon Conservation Trust.

Her PhD research at UC focused on the efficacy of reintroducing the threatened New Zealand falcon (Falco novaeseelandiae) into the vineyards of Marlborough, New Zealand’s largest wine region, as both a conservation scheme and as a source of natural pest control. The research combined behavioural ecology, ornithology, and conservation biology to examine the changes that occurred in the falcons themselves and in the vineyard ecosystems.

Currently Sara is a Post-doctoral Research Scholar in the Department of Wildlife, Fish & Conservation Biology at the University of California Davis where she is constructing predator-prey models to determine whether barn owls are able to control rodent pests on Californian farms.

Prior to this Sara was a 2013 David H. Smith Conservation Research Post-doctoral Fellow at the University of California Davis and The Nature Conservancy where she used field experiments, landscape ecology and economics to quantify the value of wild birds to farmers in California.

Sara believes that outreach is one of the most rewarding parts of doing research, and views it as an important component of her commitment to conservation. She has developed and led education programmes alongside the Department of Conservation and started the ‘Falcon Ambassadors’ programme in schools. She is also on the executive committee of the Bird Education Alliance for Conservation.

Prof Craig Franklin

Prof Craig FranklinCraig is Professor in Zoology and Deputy Head in the School of Biological Sciences at The University of Queensland (UQ) and Executive Director of UQ Research Ethics.

The focus of Craig’s research is the investigation of the responses of organisms to changing environmental conditions including assessing and predicting the impact of human-induced environmental change.

Combining lab-based experimental studies with fieldwork, Craig’s research takes an integrative approach that utilises ecological, behavioural, physiological and genomic methodologies to investigate the movement patterns, behaviours and physiology of animals in relation to environmental conditions.

He is Director of Research at Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve and his lab is currently running a tracking study on estuarine crocodiles in Queensland, following over 140 crocodiles fitted with transmitters, allowing monitoring for up to 10 years.

Craig has published over 200 scientific articles, including articles in Nature, Science, Proceedings of the Royal Society, and Global Change Biology.

His many awards include receiving an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Göteborg, Sweden and receiving the President’s Medal from the Society for Experimental Biology, UK.

He is also acknowledged as an outstanding teacher, being a recipient of the UQ Award for Excellence in Teaching and twice a finalist in the Australian Awards for University Teaching for 1st year biology team teaching.

Dr Morgan Williams

Dr Morgan WilliamsMorgan completed 10 years as NZ’s second Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment in 2007. Prior to this he held research and policy roles in agriculture and represented NZ research interests internationally, worked widely in the South Pacific and undertook his masters research in Antarctica. In 2004 Lincoln University awarded Morgan an honorary doctorate in Natural Resources.

As Commissioner he directed a large number of investigations including Missing Links: Connecting science with environmental policy (2004), Exploring the concept of a Treaty based environmental audit framework (2002) and Growing for Good: Intensive farming, sustainability and the NZ environment (2004); an investigation widely considered Morgan’s most influential.
In 1996 Morgan was awarded a Life Fellowship of the New Zealand Institute of Agricultural Science in recognition of his contribution to agricultural science.

The driving force behind Morgan’s efforts has been his great interest in how people think about and relate to the natural world –particularly political, social and economic matters that influence understanding of sustainable development and thus the management of our natural capital.

Morgan’s current activities focus on his not-for-profit work, commissioned work, plus conference chairing and synthesis.
Morgan describes his PCE role as “The most rewarding decade of my career. An extraordinary privilege to lead a fantastic team, in a unique institution, that enabled deep study of systems and futures across many spectrums of the human/natural capital interface”.

2015 April

Shelley McMurtrie

Shelley McMurtrie - Inspirational Alumni - Biological Sciences - University of CanterburyCombining her passions for quality science and clear communication, Shelley started EOS Ecology—an aquatic science and visual communication company—soon after graduating from UC. Now with offices in Christchurch and Palmerston North, she has grown EOS into a company well-respected for its commitment to exacting standards and creative science communication. As Co-director and Principal Scientist, Shelley is responsible for strategic direction, managing the science team, maintaining quality, and undertaking research and commercial work to identify robust and practical solutions to the problems facing freshwater and estuary systems in New Zealand.

Recognised for her expertise in the impacts of urbanisation on aquatic fauna and the rehabilitation of aquatic systems, Shelley was selected as the Ecology Technical Lead for two key Anchor Projects aimed at revitalising Christchurch following the earthquakes—Te Papa Otākaro/Avon River Precinct (ARP) and the Northern/Eastern Frame. As Ecology and Design Leader for the ARP in-river works package, Shelley is also responsible for one of the largest urban waterway revitalisation programmes in New Zealand.

Committed not only to taking science into the world’s wild places but also to communicating science to the wider public, Shelley coordinated the 2010/11 Campbell Island Bicentennial Expedition (CIBE).

Shelley is a member of community groups and Chairperson of a charitable trust, and regularly donates her time and her company’s resources to help the general public on ecology matters.

Dr Ian Stirling

Ian Stirling  - Inspirational Alumni - Biological Sciences - University of CanterburyIan is one of the world’s top authorities on polar bears and his long-term studies have confirmed the negative effects of climate warming and loss of sea ice is having on the species.

His career as a research scientist for the Canadian Wildlife Service at Environment Canada spanned 37 years following his PhD studies at UC where he investigated population ecology of Weddell seals in Antarctica.

Retiring in 2007, Ian remains active in research as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Alberta and as a Research Scientist Emeritus with the Wildlife Research Division of Environment Canada.

Ian’s research focus has been on polar bear ecology, population assessment, and the relationships between polar bears, seals, and ice conditions. He has published over 250 scientific articles and 5 books.

Ian is well-known for his commitment to the conservation of polar marine mammals and served on the Scientific Advisory Board and Board of Directors for the World Wildlife Fund (Canada) 1985–2002.

“The opportunities I had while at UC to conduct research on Weddell seals in Antarctica and fur seals around the coast of New Zealand set the stage for a lifetime in polar research and provided the background of understanding that enabled me to frame aspects of ecological research in the Arctic in a broader polar context, particularly with respect to predator-prey relationships and the evolution of social behavior in pinnipeds that I don’t think would have been possible without the perspectives I gained in your part of the world.”

2014 December

The Honourable Margaret Austin CNZM

Margaret Austin - Inspirational Alumni - Biological Sciences - University of CanterburyMargaret has had many accomplishments and achievements in her long career following her graduation from UC. Her roles have included Deputy Principal (Riccarton High School), Member of Parliament (including Minister of Research Science and Technology, Internal Affairs, Arts and Culture), and Chancellor of Lincoln University.

During her time as Minister of Research Science and Technology, and Chair of Education and Science Select Committee she invigorated the science system through structural changes. This was recognized in 1994 by her being awarded the New Zealand Royal Society Silver Medal for contributions to Science and Science Education.

In 1999 Margaret was appointed Chair of the New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO, and between 2003–2007 she was President of Chairs of UNESCO National Commissions World Wide. For five years from 2005 she acted as a consultant to the Director General of UNESCO to assist with National Commissions, especially in the Pacific and SE Asia.

Margaret led the Tekapo Starlight Project which resulted in the International Dark Sky Association awarding the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve Gold Status, just one of five in the world. The reserve includes UC’s Mt John Observatory at Tekapo, Twizel and Aoraki-Mt Cook village.

Dr Tim Cooper

Tim Cooper - Inspirational Alumni - Biological Sciences - University of CanterburyTim is a rising star in his research area of evolutionary genetics. On completion of his PhD he took up a postdoctoral position at Michigan State University and now has a permanent position at the University of Houston in Texas, USA. His graduate work started him on the journey of distinguishing between the current utility of genes and the selection and function that determined their evolutionary histories. He demonstrated that the environment within a cell can be more a powerful selective pressure for some kinds of genomes than the selection forces of the external environment.

His research has married the powerful new technologies of genomics with evolution, tracing the critical and sometimes unexpected combinations of changes a genome has had to make in cells that survive over evolutionary time. He has established fruitful and synergistic collaborations with biochemists, including here at UC. Through his network, Tim can thus link fundamental changes in structure at the protein level to complex adaptive phenotypes at the population level.

He has developed an exciting and independent career from the solid foundation he received at the University of Canterbury. Tim’s work appears in the most prestigious journals of his field, including Nature and Science. He has a dynamic research group of his own at Houston. His hard work, exacting mind and humble pursuit of hypotheses is an inspiration.

Prof. David Wardle

David Wardle - Inspirational Alumni - Biological Sciences - University of CanterburyDavid’s research takes him from New Zealand rainforests to Swedish tundra as he explores the connections in ecosystems both above and below ground and how they are affected by changes in the environment.

His research explores how climate change, forest fires and species invasions and losses affect important functions in ecosystems. This research includes laboratory, glasshouse and field studies in both natural and managed ecosystems.

Since 2006, David has been Professor of Soil and Plant Ecology in the Department of Forest Ecology and Management, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), Umeå, Sweden. From 2001–2002 he was Professor of Soil and Plant Ecology, University of Sheffield, UK, and prior to this worked as a research scientist at Landcare Research, Lincoln, and AgResearch, Hamilton (1990–2000).

David is one of the world’s 20 most cited scientists in ecology and environmental sciences since 2007, with over 30,000 citations. His long and growing list of publications includes over 20 articles in Science and Nature.

As an editor, David has made contributions to 10 different journals including Ecology Letters and the New Zealand Journal of Ecology. Since 2009 he has been on the Board of Reviewing Editors for the journal Science, the premier journal for scientific research. He has also authored two books.

He holds adjunct positions at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks; Landcare Research, Lincoln; and within the School of Biological Sciences here at UC.