4.1 Into the future – Annual Report 2017

With 624 PhD students and 190 Postdoctoral Fellows having graduated and found their way in the wider world after their time with the MacDiarmid Institute, it’s not surprising to see some real success stories. Here are three recent examples.

MacDiarmid alumnus Dr Andrew Preston’s start-up company Publons was acquired by international data analysis company Clarivate Analytics on 1 July 2017. Dr Preston, who started Publons in 2012 with his colleague Daniel Johnston, was a MacDiarmid Institute PhD scholarship student under MacDiarmid Principal Investigator Associate Professor Ben Ruck from 2007 to 2009. Preston and Johnston set up Publons to incentivise peer review by giving credit and recognition to researchers who review publications. “It’s a huge win for start-ups, their founders and investors.” (NZ Herald)

Revolution Fibres Ltd is a nanofibre production company based in Auckland developing products for air filtration, skincare, acoustics, composites and much more. It’s where MacDiarmid Institute alumnus Dr Bhuvana Kannan works as Research and Innovation Manager, developing nanofibres for cosmetics, skin scaffolding, textiles, batteries and filtration. Dr Kannan completed her PhD with MacDiarmid Principal Investigator Professor Jadranka Travas-Sejdic in 2011.

When Rocket Lab’s electron rocket made it to space on 25 May 2017, it also made it into headlines all around the world. It was the first successful launch of an orbital-class rocket launched from a private launch site. Rocket Lab Senior Vehicle Test Engineer, Dr Harry Warring, studied with MacDiarmid Principal Investigator Associate Professor Ben Ruck from 2010 to 2012 as a research assistant prior to doing his MacDiarmid Institute funded PhD with Associate Professor Ruck from 2013 to 2016.

Dr Warring says the skills he picked up during a PhD were easily transferred to the hi-tech sector.

“You learn a systematic way of approaching problems, and how to figure out why something is not working. It’s a process of elimination. At the end of a PhD, graduates have a whole bunch of other useful tools that they may not initially realise make them highly employable in the hi-tech sector.

“On the one hand you’re the world expert on a certain topic, but on the other, you have a bunch of skills that can lead you onto some really exciting job options.”

Dr Warring says his experience as a MacDiarmid student was very positive.

“It was all the extras – the ‘other’ skills we built up, through being part of the MacDiarmid – especially the seminars, and boot-camps. I always tried to go to as many as possible.”

A highlight for him was the MacDiarmid ‘Mātauranga Māori, Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials’ student and postdoc symposium.

“It was great to explore how we can better integrate science with Māori culture, and to understand how successful relationships can be built between science/ technological endeavours and local Māori, and can have beneficial outcomes to both groups.”

Dr Warring says the MacDiarmid Institute commercialisation workshop and internships for students had also been pertinent. “The commercialisation work- shop was great – because we are essentially a start-up company. All these extra opportunities I had through being a MacDiarmid student, to get experience outside of my PhD work, were awesome.”