In touch with … Alistair Rendell

Staying with the AUKUS theme, we spoke with Professor Alistair Rendell, Vice-President and Executive Dean of the College of Science and Engineering, whose College will play a major role in the “University AUKUS”. He told us about various tasks he must juggle in his role – and we learned about his unique skills in gingerbread house construction. 

What is your role and what does your work focus on?

I’m Vice President and Executive Dean for the College of Science and Engineering, which means I have responsibility for more than 200 full-time-equivalent continuing and fixed-term staff, more than 3,800 students, and 27,229m2 of floor space! That’s 21.14% of the total university floor space, although this fraction is about to shrink dramatically once HMRB and Festival Plaza come online. So, does this mean my job should become easier?

What journey brought you to this point in your career?

I was born and grew up in Bristol in the UK, completed a bachelor’s degree in chemistry at Durham University and then had the opportunity to study for a PhD at Sydney University. Because I was not so good at synthesising perfectly white powders, my PhD was in theoretical and computational chemistry.

After four years in Sydney, I was a postdoc at the University of Lund in Sweden for 10 months and then spent two years at NASA Ames Research Centre in Silicon Valley, California. I then spent four years at Daresbury Laboratory near Warrington in the UK before moving to Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra.

Over the years, I have spent a lot of time developing software to model complex chemical systems that exploited the very latest computing technology. This saw me move increasingly towards computer science research, and I ended up as Director of the Research School of Computer Science at ANU, a position I held until I joined Flinders University in early 2019.

What do you love most about your work?

The variety. In a college that goes from shark tagging to cyber hacking, biomedical device development to coastal erosion modelling, oil spill remediation to autonomous vehicles, there is never a dull moment.

What do you want people to know about your role?

The position description for this role listed 12 items. Only one of them is relevant: “Other duties as required and as appropriate”.

What is something you are most proud of?

The CSE 4.0 team entry in the 2022 Tonsley Gingerbread House Engineering Challenge, and especially the “Boston Dynamics” gingerbread dogs. You can guess who made them!

What does a normal day look like for you?

It starts at 8am with strong black coffee from the pod machine, progresses to a skim milk cappuccino from the Container in Anchor Court around 11am, and finishes with a second skinny cap from the Caravan around 3pm. Between these routine events other random stuff happens – some of it good, some of it bad, but none of it is dull.

How do you like to relax or spend your spare time?

I’m not sure if it’s actually relaxing, or how long it will continue, but I became a Park Runner in 2021. Of the 63 Park Runs completed to date, my best result was sixth – which sounds pretty good until you realise there were just 21 entries in the Meningie Park Run that day.

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