Rose Collis from Pahiatua, daughter of Tararua District mayor Tracey and dairy farmer Mike Collis (Eketahuna), has won a Freemasons' research scholarship worth $10,000.
It was awarded at Parliament on Wednesday May 8.
Rose's three-year PhD is funded through New Zealand Food Safety Science and Research Centre. She applied for the post-graduate scholarship mainly so she could get a powerful laptop computer for analysis from large data sets which she could work on from home.
"I always liked science and my parents have always been supportive. I really want to bring in my dairy farming background and my love for science and give back something that is positive to the dairy industry," she said.
"The Freemasons Scholarships are based on academic merit but also take into account community work — a huge part of it. I'm really passionate about promoting science for kids to get them engaged so they see the fun side of science."
She applied for the scholarship in October last year, was successful in her interview and was informed by email.
"I was very excited — I ran and told my supervisor and my parents. I was a little shocked to begin with, because its a huge scholarship that's been awarded," she said.
Rose is giving back to the community. She volunteered for a programme with a colleague, visiting primary schools, teaching the kids the exciting world of microbes. She went to Solway College in Masterton and goes back every year to their open day, spending the day in the laboratory helping the kids with science experiments. She also volunteers sampling water sites at Pukaha Mount Bruce and for local iwi at Dannevirke. There are usually eight Freemasons' scholarships available New Zealand-wide open to all post-graduate students.
Rose's PhD study is in microbiology, looking at bacteria, at Massey University. She is also working through the Food Assurance team at AgResearch — a joint position using both facilities.
"The PhD is quite hands on, looking at antibiotic resistance in a dairy farm environment," says Rose. "When bacteria acquire pieces of DNA encoding resistance genes, it means that it cannot be treated with antibiotics and that's a huge problem globally for public and animal health because it means that people get infections we can no longer treat. The main cause is the overuse of antibiotics.
"In New Zealand in animal production we're really good with our antibiotics. Data came from a report covering 30 countries and compared to these countries, NZ was the third lowest user of antimicrobials in animal production — but we use a lot more in human medicine. Still we don't have a good understanding of where we have antibiotic resistance in our dairy farm environments.
"My hypothesis is that we have low levels of antibiotic resistance in New Zealand's dairy farming environments. That's because we use relatively low doses of anti-microbials compared to other industries such as poultry.
"My project is following two farms over a long period of 18 months and sampling from the environment — soil, milk, faeces and effluent. I'm looking for both microbes that cannot be treated and resistant genes," she said.
Rose has already presented her research at the New Zealand Food Safety Science and Research Centre's annual general meeting and to the Parliamentary Primary Production Select Committee.
A published author in her chosen field, Rose also interned with AgResearch over summer breaks during her undergraduate study.