Carolyn Evans, the Vice-Chancellor of Griffith University, Australia.
It was an extraordinary experience to be plunged into an intellectual community with other graduates from around the world who were working in every conceivable area…
I came to Oxford in 1995 to undertake a DPhil on issues of religious freedom in Europe. Hard though it may seem to believe now, this area was considered an intellectual backwater; my mentors advised me to focus on an area of more contemporary interest. Fortunately, Mark Janis, who was one of the Law Fellows at Exeter, at the time shared my interest in law and religion. He took on my supervision and made it possible for me to get a place at Exeter. Needless to say, being at the forefront of this area of research has only been beneficial to my career ever since.
Life in Oxford life was dizzying at first. It was an extraordinary experience to be plunged into an intellectual community with other graduates from around the world who were working in every conceivable area. I stayed for my first year at Exeter House and got to know people working on Jane Austen, machine learning, theology and chemistry. This was a welcome change from my home country of Australia where people tended to stick with those studying the same discipline. Later, I found the same intellectually stimulating environment in the Senior Common Room and it convinced me of the importance of creating opportunities for those from different disciplines to share their insights and expertise. Interdisciplinary is a strong theme in the new Griffith University strategy.
Two years into my DPhil, Dr Janis took some time off to travel back to the US and I was appointed to the Stipendiary Lectureship that filled the gap in his absence. It turned out to be a two-year period and it was my opportunity to gain experience teaching a wide range of subjects to a talented group of Exeter undergraduates. I discovered my love of teaching at Exeter, and I only regret that my current role makes teaching very difficult.
My daughter was born in Oxford and I completed my thesis and viva a few months later. My husband (who also completed his DPhil at Oxford) and I were torn about returning to Australia given the wonderful time that we had in Oxford, but decided in the end that it was better to bring up our children close to family – and, dare I say, in better weather?
I returned to Australia: the research and teaching experience I had gained at Oxford allowed me to take on a lectureship in the Law School at Melbourne University, where over time I became a Professor and then its first female Dean in 150 years. Eventually I took up the role of Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Melbourne and in 2019 was appointed by Griffith as its first female Vice-Chancellor.