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Campus News : December 2011
www.uow.edu.au University of Wollongong Campus News December 2011 13 FOCUS ON RESEARCH Government looking to the future Twelve highly qualified early and mid-career University of Wollongong researchers have been awarded more than $6 million under two Australian Research Council (ARC) Schemes - - the Future Fellowships and the inaugural Discovery Early Career Researcher Awards (DECRA). Announcing the 2011 Future Fellows and the DECRAs in November, Innovation, Industry, Science and Research Minister Senator Kim Carr said the Federal Government was investing more than $248 million across all universities through the ARC Future Fellowships and DECRA schemes. "This support for our researchers is crucial if we want to keep Australia 'the clever country', one which continues to come up with solutions to the big problems and issues facing Australians and the world every day," Senator Carr said. UOW Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Judy Raper said the excellent results for Wollongong were a testament to the quality of UOW staff and augered well for the University's future research endeavours. UOW's Future Fellows: • Dr Heath Ecroyd (Science) • Dr Jung Ho Kim (Engineering) • Dr Todd Mitchell (Health and Behavioural Sciences) • Dr Nadia Solowij (Health and Behavioural Sciences) • Dr Haibo Yu (Science) Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) recipients: • Dr Zhenguo Huang (Engineering) • Dr Jan-Hendrik May (Science) • Dr Berwyck Poad (Science) • Dr Melanie Randle (Commerce) • Dr Peter Siminski (Commerce) • Dr Frances Steel (Arts) • Dr Justin Yerbury (Science) BG One of Australia's most prominent social researchers and commentators, Hugh Mackay, has joined the University of Wollongong as Professor of Social Science with the Institute for Innovation in Business and Social Research (IIBSoR) in the Faculty of Commerce. "Hugh Mackay is a pioneer of social research in Australia, and we are delighted to have this opportunity to work with him," IIBSoR Director Professor Sara Dolnicar said. "Having developed his own special method for qualitative research and with extensive research experience, he is an ideal fit with the team at IIBSoR, whose key aim is to develop and validate innovative and reliable qualitative and quantitative measures for business and the social sciences." As a psychologist, author, newspaper columnist and social research practitioner, Hugh Mackay has been a pioneer of social research in Australia. At UOW he will be involved in a range of initiatives including research projects, public lectures on social issues, mentoring early career researchers, and teaching the new research methods course developed by IIBSoR which is starting in 2012. "I look forward to working with the team at the University of Wollongong starting with a research project which is designed to assess different approaches to group-based research methods," Professor Mackay said. Working with Dr Melanie Randle from IIBSoR, this project will compare the commonly accepted 'typical focus group' method with Professor Mackay's unique alternative approach -- the "unfocussed group discussion technique". Each year, hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on qualitative research in Australia and the majority of this takes the form of focus groups. Information resulting from these groups is used to make important commercial, social and political decisions, but little consideration is given to the validity of the data produced or the appropriateness of the method used. The study will identify whether the focus group method influences the data that emerges, and in turn, whether different methods should be considered when designing focus group research rather than just blindly accepting the current industry norm. "Focus group research is commonly used by commercial organisations to make significant investment decisions, and by governments and politicians to develop policies that reflect the needs and best interests of their citizens," Dr Randle said. "As a result, it is important that we ensure the validity of this research in order to maximise competitiveness of our commercial organisations and industries, and to optimise our public policies to meet the needs of current and future generations of Australians." BG Hugh Mackay joins UOW University of Wollongong postgraduate student Naomi Biribo's doctoral thesis on the coastal vulnerability of her island home has been recognised with the 2011 Prime Minister's Pacific-Australia Award. The award is an Australian Government initiative designed to promote knowledge, education links and enduring ties with countries in the Pacific, Papua New Guinea and East Timor. Ms Biribo's work is being supervised by Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) lead author and renowned geomorphologist Professor Colin Woodroffe. Looking at the effect of rising sea levels, it is the first research of its kind that specifically addresses the challenges Kiribati's Tawara reef islands may face. "Reef islands are small low-lying landforms that are physically fragile and appear threatened by the impacts of climate change and associated sea-level rise," Ms Biribo said. "In light of these anticipated rises, the future of reef islands have captured the recent attention of the global and scientific community." The PMPA Awards aim to build the capacity of high- achieving postgraduate students through a series of leadership development programs and placement opportunities in Australian Government departments. Ms Biribo hopes to use the placement experience to learn how scientific recommendations can effectively influence public policy. Through the development of island coastal management, she also hopes her research might transform entrenched community attitudes. "The coast is a significant part of everyday life for the people of Kiribati and my research has implications for a wide cross-section of the community," she said. "Part of the challenge for my country is getting people to understand that every small action has implications. For example, one person who takes a sack of sand away from a beach must realise that, over time, there are significant cumulative effects," she said. MC Professor Sara Dolnicar (left) and Dr Melanie Randle welcome prominent social commentator Professor Hugh Mackay to UOW's Institute for Innovation in Business and Social Research. Island research wins PM's Pacific Award Naomi Biribo