As I’ve travelled around the country, lots of people have asked how many people work in my team and what they do, and been surprised that we are only a small group – much smaller than the office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, for example. People are also surprised that we are employed by the University of Auckland, rather than directly by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (the DPMC) so I thought it might be helpful to explain all that, and introduce who we are, and what we do.

My role is as an independent advisor to the Prime Minister, so I’m not a direct employee of the Government. Instead, I remain fully employed by the University of Auckland and am seconded to this role for four days a week. The term runs for three years. The other day is devoted to looking after my postgraduates. I’m not able to apply for any competitive research funding while I’m in the role, but have kept existing funding to support them. I’m lucky that I collaborate with some talented co-supervisors (and am particularly grateful to Laura Domigan and Nick Demerais) who are taking more of the load now as I am often away from Auckland. The secondment is funded by the DPMC under an MOU with Auckland. The funds cover 80% of my salary, the salaries of the rest of the team, the travel budget, and other expenses involved with completing the work of the Office. They don’t cover any overheads, and I am grateful to the University of Auckland for generously covering the shortfall and providing us with fully equipped office space in time for my July 1st start in the role.

The OPMCSA team as of November 2018.

Ben joined us a few weeks later, and is the Director of the Office. Ben has a background and networks complementary to my own, with broad knowledge across the history and  philosophy of science, social sciences, and fine arts. Ben has had former roles at the Royal Society Te Apārangi and in the ITP (Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics) sector. His favorite word is epistemic. Since arriving, Ben has done a great job of getting the website up and running and constantly updated, and has also led the work to craft a strategic vision for the Office. Ben is also the first point of contact for enquiries to the Office (which are rich and varied to say the least) is working on developing our network of contacts, and is framing some work on independent advice in Aotearoa, New Zealand.

George works with us for two days a week as a contractor, based in Wellington. With a broad background as both a chemist and a bureaucrat, with fingers in many pies, George acts as a point of connection between the Auckland office and Wellington. He assists with the meetings of the Departmental Science Advisors and represents me at Wellington meetings if I am double-booked. George is also leading, with Gary Evans, our efforts to ensure that the standards process includes independent science advice, when appropriate. You can learn more about this here.

Chris is my life-saving EA who joined me at the start of the role and quickly made herself completely indispensable.  A Southlander with a wicked sense of humour, Chris brings experience from both the university and private sectors here in Aotearoa, New Zealand and overseas.  She worked her magic to get the Office up and running for July 1st and now manages workflows, tasks, schedules and tickets – and makes it all look effortless. She also does a mean ET run.

Akshita is seconded to the Office half-time through the generosity of the University of Canterbury, and has been doing a great job in the background scoping out our new projects, with George and Ben. She can tell you a lot about plastic. Akshita has a research background in biochemistry and recent experience in publishing, and in a small start-up. Multi-talented, Akshita is also an artist who recently had her first international exhibition. You can see some of Akshita’s work on her Instagram.

We are currently recruiting one final person for the team – a research analyst and writer. Thanks to everyone who applied – it is a very strong applicant pool and we are excited at the level of interest. It is going to be a tough job to select the preferred candidate

If you are in Auckland, drop in to our Office at 1-11 Short Street and say hello 🙂

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