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Media Release

Health Research Council appoints new chief executive

Issue date:
Professor Catherine (Sunny) Collings

Dr Lester Levy, Chair of the Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC), is very pleased to advise that psychiatrist and researcher Professor Catherine (Sunny) Collings has been appointed the new Chief Executive of the HRC.

Professor Collings is currently Dean and Head of Campus at the University of Otago Wellington, Deputy Dean of Otago Medical School, and Director of the Suicide and Mental Health Research Group. She has worked in research, clinical practice and university leadership roles.

A graduate of the University of Otago Medical School, Professor Collings spent time in the United Kingdom earlier in her career and it was her time at the Royal Free and Maudsley hospitals, and King’s College London that ignited her passion for research as a tool for transformation. She is a Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists and has a postgraduate diploma in Public Health, a doctorate in Social Psychiatry, and is a member of the NZ Institute of Directors.  

Professor Collings says that she looks forward to this new opportunity to support New Zealand’s talented health researchers to do what they are passionate about: research that will help improve the health of all New Zealanders and reduce long-standing inequalities in health.

“Aotearoa New Zealand has some of the world’s most talented health researchers and we also have an opportunity and a responsibility to contribute and lead internationally where we can,” she says.

“It is a great honour to have this opportunity to serve on behalf of our health research community, and New Zealanders, as an advocate for and steward of our precious health research resource. I’m excited by the possibilities of harnessing even greater diversity in thinking about how we tackle important health issues, whether this be bench science, bedside research or social science approaches.”

Professor Collings has always had an interest in what can emerge at the intersection between disciplines and in understanding how the experiences of people on the margins affect their health and wellbeing. Her research in mental health has focused on people affected by eating disorders, employment matters, carers of those with mental illness, stigma, primary care service provision, gender-related issues, variations in sex characteristics and more recently the design of mental health facilities. She has a preference for working in research teams with a mix of clinical and non-clinical contribution and with a range of methodologies.

Professor Collings has over 100 publications and held significant research grants prior to taking up her new leadership role. Her research and clinical interests have most recently focussed on suicide, with the application of diverse quantitative and qualitative methods. Over the past 15 years, she has led the Suicide and Mental Health Research Group, which is unique in New Zealand for its diversity of thinking about research and teaching on suicide.

More recently she has channelled her research through developing new and emerging researchers, via PhD supervision and supporting those in her group to gain their own significant grants. The group has attracted a steady stream of international and local doctoral students and a number of her students have gone on to develop their own successful research careers in New Zealand, Australia and Canada.

Dr Lester Levy welcomes Professor Collings's experience and insights gained from her clinical, academic and leadership roles. "Her vision for research aligns strongly with the HRC’s goal for a world-leading health research and innovation system that improves the lives of all New Zealanders.”

Professor Collings will begin as Chief Executive early in 2020.