Sunday, July 3, 2022

Move to unlock dairy talent

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The wide array of resources and research within Auckland University is about to be unlocked for dairy innovators wanting to tap into diverse and new industry talent.

The university is not a traditional source for dairy industry recruiters. However the dean of Auckland University science Professor Grant Guilford believes a new joint post-graduate programme in dairy research between the university, LIC, DairyNZ and AgResearch will change that.

Collectively the industry groups see value in seeking out postgraduate students within the country’s largest city, believing the dairy sector has possibly been bypassed by many as they move through their academic careers, and often offshore.

“This is giving us a chance to work with students who may not have gone south of the Bombays, and have talent we could use,” said LIC chief executive Mark Dewdney. He welcomed the initiative to draw on students whose skills reflect the future direction of the genetics cooperative.

Along with genomics, LIC saw its future increasingly focussed on software and technology, areas of strength on the Auckland campus.

Guilford said there had been a tendency over the years for agricultural research and innovation to often operate in silos, with too little cross-pollination of ideas across faculties and fields.

“But good ideas should not be protected, they should be connected.

“In the past decade or so the science system in New Zealand has had an enormous love affair with intellectual property and spending years trying to work out how to protect it, but those ideas now need to be connected to other ideas.”

He saw a typical example where a computer science postgraduate student can couple their knowledge with an animal scientist seeking a better way to monitor dairy cow heat activity through monitoring technology.

He is expecting an even split of postgraduate students doing PhDs and Masters studies, and points to the exchange being two-way.

“Should any partners wish to have a co-opted staff member to the university, we can appoint them in a 20% role for a fixed term, allowing them to be fully-fledged members of the university.”

Partner staff who supervise students enable the university to reward the partner group financially for taking the students on. He saw it as a means of breaking down barriers at a staff level and opening up ivory towers to more collaborative industry-academic cooperation.

For AgResearch chief executive Dr Tom Richardson the programme offers the opportunity to recruit more NZ-sourced scientists. At present two-thirds of AgResearch scientists are recruited from overseas. He welcomed the opportunity to expose the “best and the brightest” on NZ’s largest urban campus to opportunities existing within this country’s largest industry they may not have even been aware of.

“At the highest level the industry needs NZ’s best and brightest in IT, science, research, food and social media. The starting point is everywhere.”

He said the Government’s desire to see the food and beverage sector grow to be 40% of exports by 2025 gives the project extra impetus, and broader scope.

Chief executive of DairyNZ, Dr Tim Mackle emphasised the programme was not intending to double up on partnerships already in place with Massey and Lincoln universities.

“We are trying to access the largely different skill sets that are available through Auckland. We are tapping into a whole source of capability we have not been accessing.”

Guilford said partners were not putting significant amounts of money into the programme, and scholarship revenue will play a key role in building student numbers.

“Partners are not required to put specific funds in, but if they have a project that a PhD or Masters student is suited to, then we will be directing them towards that partner.”

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