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Graduate Research School Dean departs after nearly a decade

Friday, 8 April 2022

Rachel image 650 x 400

After almost 10 years in the role, the Graduate Research School’s first Dean, Professor Rachel Spronken-Smith, has departed.

Professor Spronken-Smith was seconded into the role of Acting Director for what was then Graduate Research Services in 2012. Months later, implantation of a Graduate Research School (GRS) was approved, and she was appointed as the school’s first Dean, starting in January 2013.

“I have very mixed feelings about leaving,” she says. “I do believe it is the best job in the University! Every day is different, which is part of the attraction of the role.”

GRS Manager, Andrew Lonie, once told her people were often not sure what it was the School did.

“He said it is a bit like insurance; while things are going well they have no need for us, but if anything goes pear-shaped, they discover us and how we can help.”

Day to day, Professor Spronken-Smith dealt with complex enquiries from candidates, their supervisors or examination conveners, either via email, phone, Zoom meetings or face to face. She facilitated workshops for candidates or supervisors, reviewed and developed policies and guidelines for graduate research, and prepared for committee meetings.

“There are many committee meetings – I chaired the Graduate Research Committee and the Graduate Research Student Liaison Committee, and was a member of Senate, the Board of Graduate Studies, the Research Committee and QAC.”

She also chased tardy examiners for their reports, helped organise graduate research events and managed staff and activities at the GRS.

“I am proud of the often-small contributions I have made to the research journeys of many PhD candidates, whether through workshops, graduate research events or confidential conversations to help them navigate tricky progress or supervision issues.”

The last two years had been very challenging with borders being closed as a result of COVID-19. She was pleased, however, that despite this situation, the School had been able to slightly increase its doctoral enrolments as a result of innovative ways of teaching remote start students.

Many of the remote start students had since arrived in Dunedin, or would do so, soon.

Dealing with the Shared Service Restructure and COVID-19 had been pretty full on though, she says, and she is ready for a break.

“I also think it is important to get in a new Dean with fresh ideas who can further grow and improve the School.”

She is delighted the School has secured another half-time Professional Practice Fellow to assist with workshops and events. The School is also about to advertise a Deputy Dean role.

“This will be a massive help to the new Dean and Manager. Hopefully the workload will be more manageable for the new Dean and allow a greater focus on strategic matters.”

She challenges the new Dean to ensure every incoming graduate research candidate knows about the School, and how it can help students – through both the good times and the struggles.

Prior to the role of Dean at the GRS, Professor Spronken-Smith was head of the Higher Education Development Centre (HEDC), and this is where she has returned to since finishing up as Dean.

“I will return to HEDC, but not as head – it is time for a quieter academic life and indeed I am on research and study leave for the rest of 2022.”

Working alongside the fabulous team at the GRS had been a privilege, Professor Spronken-Smith says.

“With just six of us, we are a close knit and collegial team, and I will miss daily banter with colleagues.”

Professor Spronken-Smith's last day as Dean was on Thursday, 31 March. New GRS Dean Professor David Baxter began on Friday, 1 April.