Q: What were your first impressions of Plymouth University, and how have they changed during your first six months as Dean?
I quickly realised the University is even better than I had expected and the true quality of its research and teaching are something of a hidden gem. I knew it possessed many outstanding academics and through my own experience, and by talking to colleagues from institutions among the global elite, it was evident many people here are very well thought of.
But in fact, the level of expertise is far broader, as evidenced by the recent Research Excellence Framework (REF) in which nearly two-thirds of our research was graded as world-leading or of international quality.
Q: Your new faculty covers a broad spectrum of subject areas. How do you begin to influence areas where you might not, at present, have an in-depth knowledge?
I am a both a Chartered Scientist and Chartered Engineer, so in a very broad sense I guess it’s not a big stretch, for example, to marine and other areas. But the faculty has excellent leadership at all levels, so where I may not have specific subject knowledge there is the right expertise in place, and each school or institute has areas that are truly world-leading. As Dean, my role is to make sure that everyone is integrated and working towards the same goals, so that students and staff get the best possible experience during their time here.
Q: So, as Dean, what is your overall vision for the Faculty of Science and Environment?
Well for a start, I think ‘engineering’ should be reflected within its title. Essentially though, our faculty covers the STEM subjects, which means that at a national level we are fulfilling a core need, and I have a very clear vision for what we should be doing. We need to be focusing on the areas where we already excel and concentrate on teaching the fundamentals. But I also do not think we should be afraid to take risks and build on Plymouth’s reputation for thinking outside the box. The notion of the enterprise university also excites me, as it demonstrates that we do things differently here and are working to create a unique environment.
Q: You mentioned the REF before, is that something you think we should be shouting about more?
In many ways, research is the key to everything we do, from inspiring our students to cultivating our industry connections. But at Plymouth, I think our research excellence does still slip under the radar despite the fact that in several areas of science and the environment we rank among the best in the country. We talk about our research-informed teaching, but I believe there is work to be done in communicating the fact that our lecturers are at the cutting edge of scientific innovation and possess expertise that really does have the potential to change the way we understand the world.
Q: Your specialist subject is computer science. What role do you feel universities can play in enhancing its teaching at all levels of education?
Computing is the underlying discipline that has allowed the modern world to create all of the wonderful technology we now depend on for every facet of our lives. And my vision would be for education to no longer focus on the three Rs but for another to be added, creating the four Rs of Reading, wRiting, aRithmetic and pRogramming.
To truly inspire the next generation of teachers, I believe we need to be working alongside teachers to ensure that young people understand the fundamentals at primary and secondary school before teaching them specific skills at universities and in the workplace. Providing a rounded education, which ensures that young people have a level of competency in several aspects of computing, is the way forward.
Q: And finally, tell us something about yourself that people here might not know.
Can I broaden that to three things? Firstly, I spent 20 years in startup companies in Silicon Valley, experiencing both the boom and the bust and working in spin-outs that became billion-dollar industries.
Secondly, I have been practising Aikido for 45 years and, in 2000, set up an international charity that runs dojos and classes across the United States and Europe.
And thirdly, I hold a Commercial Pilot’s Licence and own an ex-RAF De Havilland trainer – although she is currently still back in America, and hasn’t flown for four years.