Press release

Tuesday 5 March 2019


PM Chief Science Advisor Internships capture vital talent for NZ.

MacDiarmid Co-Directors Associate Professor Nicola Gaston and Professor Justin Hodgkiss today welcomed the series of new internships for PhD graduates announced this week by the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, Professor Juliet Gerrard.  The Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, Professor Juliet Gerrard, today announced a new series of internships for PhD graduates. The new interns will spend three months in the Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, working on various issues key to government science advice, including sustainable development, renewable energies, climate change and the innovation economy.  The first six interns are recent PhD graduates from the MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology.

Professor Gerrard said that the first six internships would be funded by the MacDiarmid Institute, and established a pathway from a science PhD into government advice, adding relevant and up to date science expertise to the government sector, and giving recent graduates a feel for working in a policy environment. 

“We are very excited to welcome the six MacDiarmid graduates.  On the one hand, this is a way of bringing talent into the Office to work on hot topics where we need to scope out the best way to frame the evidence base.  On the other hand, it also gives the recent graduates a chance to try out applying skills in a science advice environment” 

Associate Professor Gaston said that most students spent a lot of time planning the beginnings of their tertiary education – where they’ll go, what they’ll study, but were often less clear about where to at the end of it. 

“This is especially so for those who go so far as to develop deep expertise through a PhD.  Should they then stay in academia and do a postdoctoral fellowship somewhere? Or head out of academia and into government or industry to transfer that expertise?  This is about providing options for  students interested in the second path, and giving them a taste of the policy advice environment.”

Professor Hodgkiss said that although the New Zealand government policy sector is well populated by former scientists now in senior analysis and advisor roles, it wasn’t always easy for students to see the pathway from the lab to a policy advice position. 

“Pathways into government advice and policy have not always been straight-forward. How can a science graduate contribute their expertise to key government thinking? How do we support these new graduates, rich with deep science knowledge, as well as deep research skills, and give them a chance to apply their knowledge and skills in a way that contributes to New Zealand’s future?”

Associate Professor Gaston said that many of the issues the OPMCSA is developing advice on related to the science of the MacDiarmid Institute.

“Our students who have done a materials science PhD will have real expertise to add to key advice areas such as renewable energies.” 

She noted that the Office of the Prime Minister’s new Chief Sci Advisor had previously piloted an internship scheme, whereby science students and others could be involved with projects on the PMCSA work-plan She said that the MacDiarmid cohort would build on this and broadens it, so that new science PhD graduates can spend three months working for the office.

“Professor Gerrard’s initiative makes great use of the usually three-months that a PhD graduate has between submitting their thesis, and their thesis exam/defence, and we’re really happy to be funding the first six interns to work for her office under this initiative.”



Associate Professor Nicola Gaston 021 027 99624

Professor Justin Hodgkiss 022 605 5007

Vanessa Young 027 426 3453


Georgina Shillito

Georgina did her PhD in chemistry at the University of Otago and has just recently submitted her doctoral thesis for examination. Her thesis involved investigation into how transition metal complexes interact with light. Understanding the photophysical properties of such materials allows us to understand their potential for application in areas of technology, such as solar energy conversion.

Georgina’s intern project will involve examination of current solar energy use in New Zealand and will also evaluate new, emerging technologies and assess their potential impact on energy use and policy in New Zealand.


Jono Barnsley

Jono has a background in physical chemistry and recently finished his PhD involving the study of highly coloured materials.

He will work on ‘insect decline’ and the potential impacts it has for New Zealand industry and biodiversity. Working alongside the Chief Scientists at Ministry for Primary Industries, PI and Department of Conservation, Jono will conduct research into the trends and the state of monitoring efforts both nationally and internationally.

Jono is pursuing an analytical chemistry career in New Zealand industry.

Odile Smits

I have an educational background in theoretical physics and I obtained my PhD in computational physics/chemistry. I am now a Postdoctoral researcher in nuclear physics, studying the physics and chemistry of the heavy elements. 

Besides my interest in understanding the fundamental laws of nature, I am interested in applying my knowledge to environmentally related issues.

The research project will be on the subject of minimizing the carbon footprint by efficient electricity distribution and storage.

Wayne Crump

With a background of maths and physics, Wayne Crump undertook his PhD in the field of superconductivity. His research investigated the relationship between the maximum electric current a superconductor can pass, and its superconducting properties.

His project at the OPMCSA will focus on potential impacts of quantum computing technology. It will asses potential timelines for its impact on New Zealand industry and society.

Kyle Webster

I grew up in Nelson and enjoy travel, running, triathlons, and video games. My research background is in protein nanotechnology. I have worked on combining nanoparticles with human proteins to work towards self-assembling manufacturing techniques for next-generation computer processors.  I will be working on the technological background to artificial intelligence: talking to people around the country to get an idea of what experts are thinking in this area, and scoping the long term impacts of AI development on New Zealand society and policy. 

Ankita Gangotra

Born in India, I moved to the UK in 2011 to do electronics engineering at the University of York. After graduating with an MEng Electronics with Nanotechnology in 2015, I moved to New Zealand. I am currently finishing a PhD in the Department of Physics at the University of Auckland. In my project I have looked at combining principles of engineering, physics, chemistry and biology to study the mechanical properties of soft nanoparticles.

I am a staunch advocate for equity in STEM, and consider myself very fortunate to be able to explore ways to improve that as part of this internship.