Four of Australia’s best young researchers have been named recipients of the 2021 Paul Bourke Awards for Early Career Research by the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia.

Academy President Professor Jane Hall said that the recipients had been selected from an extremely talented field of applicants.

“These young researchers are working at the very highest level to address some of the critical challenges facing our society today,” said Professor Hall.

“They are deserving winners of this award and join a very select list of previous recipients; many of whom have gone on to make substantial contributions to society.”

The Paul Bourke Award for Early Career Research recognises social science researchers in the early part of their careers. It is named in honour of the late Professor Paul Bourke, an influential political historian who served as Academy President from 1993 to 1997.

The 2021 recipients are:

  • Dr Michele Barnes, (Sociology) from James Cook University, whose work looks at how our social networks could have a positive impact on the environment and support climate adaptation.
  • Dr Tim Neal, (Economics) from The University of New South Wales, whose work contains new insights into the economics of climate change, COVID-19 panic buying, and child labour among other areas.
  • Dr Laura Rademaker, (History), from the Australian National University, a leading historian of Indigenous Australia, with an outstanding research record encompassing religious, gender and deep history.
  • Dr Nathan Caruana, (Cognitive Science), from Macquarie University who studies how people optimally process non-verbal information to coordinate with and understand others.

The four award recipients will give public talks on their research in Social Sciences Week 2022.

A short video featuring the impact of each winner’s research is available to share or embed from the Academy’s YouTube channel. For more information on the Paul Bourke Awards and past recipients see:

The citations for each winner follow.

For interviews please contact Chris Hatherly on 0417 209 425 or

About the 2021 Paul Bourke Award recipients:

Dr Michele Barnes, James Cook University
Michele Barnes’ research demonstrates the importance of networks and culture to environmental governance and offers practical methodological tools to integrate social scientific perspectives with those of other disciplines. Her contributions to the social sciences are exceptional in three respects:
First, Michele has pioneered methodologies for transdisciplinary structural network analysis that build on the classic network analytic approaches of sociology and institutional economics with insights from physics, mathematics and biology.
Second, Michele collaborates actively with policy-makers and environmental managers to enhance the relevance and impact of her work.
Third, Michele has a remarkable track record of publication and citation impact relative to career stage, as reflected in over 2,900 citations to her work, an h-Index of 22, and an average of the Impact Factor of the journals she has published in of 9.86.

Dr Tim Neal, The University of New South Wales
Tim Neal is an outstanding young economist, destined to become one of Australia’s distinguished academic leaders. In the years following his PhD, he has demonstrated his extraordinary gift for methodological innovation and creative use of new (sometimes big) data sources, to generate a truly impressive early portfolio of top tier publications. He exemplifies the best instincts of an applied academic economist: concern with policy issues, which motivates the topics he chooses to study, and equity, which was the underpinning of his PhD. Tim also brings experience from his work at Ernst and Young, where he was an economist for two years before returning to academe, and this experience has further broadened the resources he will deploy for an influential future, and has honed his instincts for relevance in rigorous policy analysis.

Dr Laura Rademaker, The Australian National University
Laura Rademaker is a leading historian of Indigenous Australia, with an outstanding research record encompassing religious, gender and deep history. Her book Found in Translation: Many Meanings on a North Australian Mission, based on doctoral research into the Anindilyakwa-speaking peoples on Groote Eylandt, explores the roles of linguistic translation and mis-translation in the settler colonial project. Laura has developed a highly distinctive historical practice based on the extensive use of oral history in combination with detailed archival research, in close collaboration with Indigenous communities. Her award-winning first book won the WK Hancock Prize, and her wide-ranging research in Indigenous and mission history is featuring in major national and international journals.

Laura has established a reputation as one of the most innovative scholars in the field, recently receiving an ARC DECRA and an SRI Award.

Dr Nathan Caruana, Macquarie University
Nathan Caruana is a gifted young cognitive scientist already making major contributions to the field of social cognitive neuroscience.

His work focusses on how people intuitively process non-verbal information so as to coordinate with and understand others, and why ability to do this is impaired in both autism and schizophrenia. Both clinical groups show abnormalities in the way they direct gaze to others during social interaction; but what role does this play in disturbance of communicative ability?

To study this, he has developed a remarkable and already influential new immersive VR task with integrated hand and eye tracking to determine how much people use gaze information during joint attention – and hence how problematic is it if autistic people don’t attend to gaze. Amongst many important findings is that autistic teens are actually very good at responding to joint attention bids if these use gesture rather than eye gaze.