How the right type of funding can make a big difference

When Julian and Josie Robertson established the Aotearoa Foundation in 2004, their goal was to make high-impact grants across New Zealand in three principal areas: education, conservation and medical research.

Dr David Nickerson (left) and Dr Geoffrey Handsfield were each awarded a $1 million Aotearoa Foundation Fellowship

The couple, originally from New Zealand but now based in New York, wanted to ensure the recipients were able to get the most out of the money and make real advances.

In 2017, Dr Geoffrey Handsfield at the Auckland Bioengineering Institute was awarded a $1 million Aotearoa Foundation Fellowship – $250,000 per year over four years – to research and model muscle degradation in children with cerebral palsy.

Cerebral palsy is the most common motor disability in childhood, affecting 1 in every 300 children worldwide. Early treatment can greatly improve their quality of life, helping to correct their movement and posture.

The Aotearoa Foundation Fellowship gives Dr Handsfield more time to focus on what he does best – his research. “It’s a great way to set it up because the Aotearoa Foundation Fellowship is open and you get to allocate the money how you see fit – to pursue the research freely but also set up your future research path,” says Dr Handsfield.

“Conventional funding is typically structured so you get a 1 or 2 year post-doc position, and the money mostly just covers your salary. Most early career researchers spend a lot of time trying to find the next lot of funding so they can continue their research.”

“It can become frenetic, especially if you’re on a one-year post-doc – you basically start your year looking for the next source of funding, while also trying to balance your research and publications. It can be very stressful and makes it hard to do your best work.

”Dr Handsfield says that having four years of continuous funding makes a big difference.

It’s huge because it allows you a lot of time and space. It gives me more time to develop my team, to supervise my students and help them do their best. It’s a great opportunity for setting up early-career scientists – it lets them move forward and do the work they’re passionate about.

Dr Geoffrey Handsfield Auckland Bioengineering Institute

And even though it’s still early days in the project, he says the team is already seeing some promising progress. And having funding already in place means he can get even more benefit from additional funding – which he plans to do with a new Marsden Fund Fast-Start grant from the Royal Society.

“What was nice about having the Aotearoa Foundation funding was that I didn’t need to put administrative and salary costs into the proposal for the Marsden grant. So I can use more of that new grant money to directly fund research.”

“The additional project is blue-skies research that I think is very important for my field and represents questions that need to be answered to move forward. So while I’m here at the Auckland Bioengineering Institute, already supported by the Aotearoa Foundation, I now have even more opportunity to make real advances.”

For more information contact Dr Nicole Basset, Development Manager
Mobile: 021 246 2801
Email: n.bassett@auckland.ac.nz

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