Flinders University has a new Deputy Vice Chancellor (Students) – and as we welcome Professor Romy Lawson to this role and the Flinders family, we enjoyed an informal chat and learned how kayaking in the Lake District and an interview in her pyjamas changed her life.
What is your role and what does your work focus on?
I’ve just started as Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Students) at Flinders. It’s my responsibility to ensure that students are provided with every opportunity to have a great experience at Flinders while developing the necessary skills and knowledge they need to be successful after graduation. A lot of this is based on creating an environment that fosters a positive learning experience for students – being supportive and inclusive, but also challenging. My team is responsible for engaging with students and key stakeholders, to make sure we can create a campus experience that allows all students to excel and make a positive difference to their community.
What journey brought you to this point in your career?
My journey is definitely the road less travelled for many people in academia. I left school before completing my higher qualifications and kept my distance from formal education for a few years. I became an outdoor education instructor, what I like to call my version of running off to join the circus. I loved this role, spending my days teaching kayaking, rock climbing and sailing. It was a dream come true. We used these outdoor skills as a vehicle for personal development, and the opportunity to work with people from so many walks of life was a key driver that got me where I am today. When I decided to return to formal education, I enrolled in a degree in physical education and psychology. I went on to complete my MPhil and PhD while working at Bangor University in Wales, where I worked for 18 years.
Now onto to the pyjama interview, which was at 1am for a role at the University of Southern Queensland. I had every intention to remain dressed smartly but as the night got later, I couldn’t resist getting ready so I could sleep as soon as it was over (I should note it was a telephone interview!). Anyway, I was successful, so I packed my bags, said goodbye to my friends and family, and hopped on a plane that would take me to the other side of the world, and a vastly different climate! Moving from Wales to Queensland was a bit of a shock to the system, but I think I’ve adjusted well to the Australian climate over the past 14 years.
Since then, I’ve worked at universities in Queensland, New South Wales and Western Australia – and now I’m delighted to be in beautiful South Australia. Flinders held an appeal that was too hard to resist.
What do you love most about your job?
It’s the people I get to work with. There is something to learn from every person I meet, and I love being able to take that knowledge and use it to help shape a community that everyone is proud to be a part of. I’m fascinated by the different ways that people learn, so it’s a privilege to be involved in developing and creating innovative learning environments that motivate and educate students, preserving a thirst for knowledge that propels people to apply for university.
What is something you are most proud of?
On a professional level, I’m always very proud when I attend graduations. Seeing the success of our students is what it’s all about. I’m also very proud of work I’ve done in the equity and diversity space, and I’m really looking forward to helping the University grow and develop this commitment. Work done so far in this area is impressive, and I look forward to being a part of the next stages.
What does a normal day look like for you?
I don’t think there’s any such thing as a normal day – and I’m sure most staff at a university would agree with me. At the moment, my days are full of meetings. My first step in any new role is to engage with as many people as I can, which isn’t easy while working from home, but thank goodness for Teams software. I’ll be excited to get back on campus once it’s safe, to start meeting people face-to-face. I’d like to start Coffee Catch Ups, where once a week I base myself in a coffee shop on campus for an hour so that anyone who wishes can come and chat with me, and share their ideas, achievements and challenges. I’m really looking forward to these conversations.
How do you like to relax or spend your spare time?
Most of my spare time is spent with my family – my wife Sam and daughter Mackenzie, who is about to turn 6. I have a rule that if I’m home and Mackenzie is awake, it’s time for us. Where possible, there’s no work and no distractions. I’m pretty good at not breaking this rule, and it’s my favourite time of day. Mackenzie has grown up around universities and loves coming to visit, so I’m hoping to bring her for her first Flinders visit soon.
Prior to being a mum, I had multiple pastimes including playing and coaching hockey, serving as an officer in the Royal Naval Reserves, and a great passion of mine is scuba diving. I’m never happier than when I get to experience swimming with sharks!