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Published 28 January 2021

Te whitinga mai o te rā: fellowships for early career researchers

Dr Sereana Naepi and Dr Sarah Moss, Co-Chairs of the Royal Society Te Apārangi Early Career Researcher Forum

A new initiative in response to the COVID-19 pandemic seeks to support early career researchers in Aotearoa with a passion for research, science and innovation.

A 'one-off' Government initiative, the MBIE Science Whitinga Fellowships will provide $10 million to support researchers early in their career, in a research system and global environment heavily impacted by COVID-19. 

The Fellowships intend to support up-and-coming researchers to rise and establish a career in their chosen field of research. This is captured in the name of the Fellowship ‘Te whitinga mai o te rā,’ which can translate to “the rising of the sun”.

30 Fellows will be selected for the two-year Fellowship, valued at $320,000 per award, for research undertaken in any field (including the humanities, mātauranga and social science) at an eligible New Zealand research institution.

Announcing the Fellowships, Associate Minister of Research, Science and Innovation Hon Dr Ayesha Verrall said:

“The pandemic has had widespread impacts across the science system, including the research workforce. After completing their PhD, researchers often travel overseas to gain experience but in the past year many have been unable to do so due to travel restrictions.” 

“The MBIE Science Whitinga Fellowship will fund some of our best and brightest early-career researchers, providing them with much-needed certainty for the coming years. Each researcher will receive a one off fellowship worth $320,000 over two years to help them grow and develop their research skills in New Zealand.

“It’s vital that we ensure that our research community is well supported as we respond to COVID-19. Some of the long term challenges we are tackling as a Government, such as housing and climate change, rely on the contributions of the country’s leading researchers."

The Fellowship will be administered by Royal Society Te Apārangi on behalf of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

Royal Society Te Apārangi President Professor Wendy Larner said she was delighted to see the launch of this new funding opportunity today.  “The Early Career Researcher workforce is our future, but this diverse group faces ever-present challenges to employment stability and these challenges are being exacerbated and amplified by the pandemic.”

Co-chairs of the Society's Early Career Researcher Forum Dr Sarah Moss and Dr Sereana Naepi were thrilled to hear of the new initiative.  Last year the ECR Forum released a discussion paper that highlighted the precarious position many early career researchers are in and how this was being made worse by COVID-19. It called for safeguards and support so that early career researchers would not be lost from the sector.  They said the new Whitinga Fellowships would be a lifeline for 30 early career researchers.

"Aotearoa will benefit from 30 new ideas that we may not have been able to explore without this funding and there will be food on the table for the recipients as we negotiate a research sector with COVID-19," Sereana said.

"Early career researchers currently questioning their ability to stay in research will now have a new opportunity to continue their careers with a benefit to not only them, but New Zealand as a whole," Sarah added. 

The Fellowship will open for applications in February 2021, with more information on the application process available soon. 

Source: Royal Society Te Apārangi