Michele Coleman

Dr Michele Coleman sees first-hand the pivotal role the Otago Medical Research Foundation has in research, in kick-starting careers, and in making a difference to retaining talent in Dunedin.

The University of Otago Health Sciences Research and Development Manager has been involved with the OMRF for many years, initially through promotion and engagement input, and now as a council member.

Her daily work and in depth knowledge of all of the university’s health sciences research gives her a valuable overview of what’s being done, where the gaps are, and what researchers need to do their work.

Being involved in the Foundation also brings an outside perspective to her job.

“I’m surrounded by academia – being in the OMRF council and attending its public functions means engaging with the business community which offers new ways of looking at issues.”

“I love the role we have as intermediary – in helping the wider community understand the science but also the research process and why studies can take a long time. People might understand the value of health research but so often they’re blown away by what we are capable of doing and the sheer range of expertise right here in Dunedin.”

“And at the same time, we’re taking on board what the business community says, giving me a feel for their problems, expectations and drivers, what they want and if we can tailor or prioritise research to help.”

“It allows cross-fertilisation of skills, which challenges, helps our focus and enhances our ability to do meaningful work, to the benefit of everyone. It’s a really satisfying part of the job.”

She sees daily how OMRF funding has impact.

“National grants are so hard to get – it is challenging to get that untagged money to do basic research. OMRF offers the opportunity to take an idea and test what’s possible. The researcher can build on that to then produce a proof-of-concept for a larger funder, one that requires evidence in order to invest in a much broader study or in clinical trials. Or we fill in a gap between funding. Whatever way, it’s a vital step both in progressing research big and small, and supporting researchers.”

Michele’s office manages summer internships and research scholarships, which also gives her a direct view of how the OMRF helps develop careers. “It’s about the skills students pick up in their internship, be it writing grants and publication abstracts, which forms a solid foundation. And it’s about nurturing a love of science. We have all helped in some small way towards helping a young person to see what they are capable of when they finish their studies.”