Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Loch Ness monster researcher named Otago Dean of biomedical sciences

After making global headlines in his search for the Loch Ness monster, the University of Otago’s Professor Neil Gemmell has moved onto his next adventure as the new Dean of the University’s School of Biomedical Sciences.

“Having the opportunity to lead this group is a significant honour,” Professor Gemmell says.

“With the support and encouragement of my colleagues, I applied for the position and so it is my hope to do right by both them and our students.”

“I have a strong focus on the people around me and believe in putting the time in to recognise staff and their achievements. We celebrate success unashamedly, to create a positive environment where people feel supported to do their best.”

Professor Gemmell, who takes over from Professor Brian Hyland early next year, has been at the University of Otago since 2008 as the AgResearch Leading Thinkers Chair of Reproduction and Genomics based in the Department of Anatomy.

He has previously held roles as the Director of the Centre for Reproduction and Genomics and as Head of the Department of Anatomy.

He describes his research as a blend of ecology, population, conservation and evolutionary biology with a special interest in reproduction. In 2019, his work analysing environmental DNA, eDNA, from water samples taken from Loch Ness for signs of the famous monster attracted international attention. He has more recently been involved in work that uses similar approaches to analysing wastewater for traces of COVID-19.

Professor Gemmell is eager to lead the school into the next stage of its strategic planning.

“As we plan for new buildings and facilities over the next few years there will be opportunities to consider how we best arrange ourselves. The reality is that many disciplines now overlap in some way or other, which might lead us to change the way we group ourselves moving forward.”

Professor Gemmell’s passion for his field has seen him develop an extensive network of research across a wide array of topics, achieve significant grant success, publish widely, and mentor a large cohort of students and staff.

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Professor Neil Gemmell made international headlines when he went in search of the Loch Ness monster in 2019.

Over the past few years, Professor Gemmell’s accomplishments have been recognised nationally and internationally. He won the BMS Research Excellence Award in 2014 and was one of seven Sesquicentennial Distinguished Chairs appointed by the University in 2019. He has also received significant external recognition, including the prestigious MJD White Medal from the Genetics Society of Australasia (2018), the “Research Excellence” award from the NZ Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (2019).

Last year he received the Hutton Medal from the Royal Society Te Apārangi for his contributions to animal ecology, evolution and conservation, which was soon followed by his election as a Fellow of the Royal Society Te Apārangi. This year he will deliver the Founder lecture and receive the Founders Medal from the Society for Reproductive Biology.

“Professor Hyland has left the School of Biomedical Sciences well positioned for its next phase of growth and we are delighted that he is handing over to such a capable leader. Professor Gemmell has made outstanding contributions to his field and is a well-respected and capable academic leader,” said Division of Health Sciences Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Professor Paul Brunton.

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