Meet our new Executive Dean of Human Sciences

Today, following an extensive international search, we welcome Professor Simon Handley to Macquarie, in his new role as Executive Dean, Human Sciences. Simon joins us from Plymouth University, United Kingdom, where he held the positions of Head of School of Psychology and Associate Dean.

Earlier this year, following the retirement of Professor Janet Greeley from the role of Executive Dean, Human Sciences, Emeritus Professor Richard Henry took up the position to support the Faculty until a suitable candidate was found.

“I am very grateful for Emeritus Professor Henry’s support and hard work over the past eight months in the Faculty of Human Sciences,” says the Vice-Chancellor, Professor S Bruce Dowton. “His leadership and expertise has helped provide continuity and stability for staff and students throughout the year, and his contributions to the Executive Group have been insightful and highly valued. I wish him the very best for his future.”

We asked Simon a number of questions about his academic background and aspirations for the new role.

What’s the elevator pitch of your professional background and expertise?
What motivates me as an academic, a scientist and a leader is making a difference and transforming lives. This might be as simple as helping a student to see meaning in what they are learning and sharing in their excitement as they realise that they have discovered something new. It may be the satisfaction of mentoring a postdoc who goes on to secure a major research grant or leading a faculty successfully through a period of change. This depends upon genuinely engaging with people. It depends upon recognising potential, drawing on these strengths, understanding people’s motivations and acknowledging success. My approach to leadership is to do all of these things and in the process make a difference to people’s lives.

Why did you choose your career path?
Like many people, I didn’t really choose my career path. I finished my undergraduate degree with a mortgage and a young family to support and was lucky enough to secure a research position with Ruth Byrne, a leading researcher in thinking and reasoning. The project examined meta-deduction – how people solve problems that require reflections on the truth or falsity of assertions. It amazed me that I could earn a living investigating how people solved abstract puzzles, but it also fascinated me that research of this kind could deliver important insights into how people think. I learnt that the most important motivation for scientific endeavour is a passion to contribute to knowledge and that this is an important aim in itself. My research programme focuses on the errors that people make in judgment, but equally the circumstances that facilitate logical thought. This has led me to be a passionate advocate for training in critical thinking. One of my key aspirations is that all students complete their degrees being able to appreciate that they should take a critical stance to anything they are told, including their own beliefs, thoughts and views. As Jacob Bronowski said: “It is important that students bring a certain ragamuffin, barefoot irreverence to their studies; they are not here to worship what is known, but to question it.”

What attracted you to Macquarie?
In my previous roles, I oversaw the establishment of a cognition research institute – a unique multidisciplinary research centre focused around collaboration between psychology, cognitive neuroscience, cognitive robotics, education and neuro-arts. As such I can recognise the genuine potential that arises from drawing on interdisciplinary strengths. The Faculty of Human Sciences is unique in its strengths and combination of subject areas and I see a genuine opportunity for building further interdisciplinary collaboration in undergraduate and postgraduate programs, as well as developing a world-leading centre for the study of brain sciences, behaviour, education and language, delivering excellent basic research but also engaged with practitioners and industry. The potential is enormous and I really can’t wait to get started in the role.

What do you hope to achieve in the new role?
I would like to establish the Faculty of Human Sciences as a world leading centre of academic and research excellence. A faculty that is appreciated by self-aware, critical and highly-skilled students and staff, that provides sustainable economic and social impacts and highly valued and employable graduates. I would aim to draw upon my experience working on graduate training with research councils in the United Kingdom to develop a human sciences graduate school that delivered sector leading researcher development programs to support the next generation of research leaders. And finally I would like to build upon existing excellence in ensuring that students receive exceptional learning opportunities, enhanced by internship and placement opportunities at home and overseas, and informed by exposure to world leading research activity. In short, I would like the faculty to be the first choice for students wanting to study any of its core disciplines or any researcher looking to develop their careers.