February 2022

11 February 2022

Welcome to 2022. Let’s hope it’s an improvement on the two years that preceded it. The early signs are good, with a real prospect of being able to get back onto campus safely for some teaching and other activities in Semester 1, and international students returning in significant numbers. Your safety will be our paramount concern, as always.

Many of you will be working in new roles, or are in new working relationship with colleagues following the implementation of the University’s transformation. We are also getting used to working more flexibly. The staff survey on work preferences conducted at the end of last year showed a strong preference for greater flexibility in working arrangements, something that I am keen to support – which in turn will require us to rethink how we make best use of our available space. All in all, it feels like a very different world to 2019.

It’s been a busy year already, with Government releasing its policy on University Research Commercialisation at the start of this month. It was a pleasant surprise to hear the Prime Minister talk during his Press Club address in such positive terms about the role that Australia’s universities will play in the country’s future economic prosperity. The policy will see significant investment over the next 10 years in initiatives to support the early-stage commercialisation of university IP in collaboration with industry.

La Trobe will be well placed to take advantage of this funding given the work we have done in recent years to boost our industry engagement capacity and our ability to support the development of our researchers’ IP through our own Strategic Investment Fund (which, amongst other things, has supported the development of Brian Abbey’s NanoMslide, now to be further developed in partnership with Leica). Brian’s work, and others like it, perfectly exemplifies our cultural qualities of connectedness and innovation.

The policy announcement also contains some significant changes to the way in which existing ARC funds will be allocated. While there remains much detail to be fleshed out, it will be important to ensure that Australia’s research grants system retains its integrity and world class standing; and that the sort of Ministerial veto we saw before Christmas – of ARC projects recommended for funding – is not repeated. Otherwise, our system risks becoming subject to the ‘tyranny of one man’s opinion’.

I hope to see many of you on campus in the coming weeks. In the meantime, I’d like to share a few recent achievements at the University.


Distinguished honours

Congratulations to Jenny Graves on her richly deserved promotion to the rank of Companion of the Order of Australia in the awards that were announced on 26 January. Accolades like “trailblazer” and “luminary” are sometimes thrown about carelessly, but in Jenny’s case they are entirely appropriate.

I doff my hat to Jenny on a stellar career as one of the world’s leading geneticists and on her extraordinary contributions to women in science. Jenny has also written some of the most widely read articles ever published by The Conversation – I encourage you to read about her fascinating research.

Congratulations to all of the La Trobe alumni and current and former staff who were recognised with 2022 Order of Australia awards. The list of recipients shows the many ways that La Trobe people make a difference to our world – well done to all.


Grant success

Belated congratulations to all of the researchers who won grants that were announced in late December. Nine researchers won ARC Discovery Project grants, for which there is intense competition. Winning so many of these prestigious grants is a real vote of confidence in La Trobe’s research strength.

I was also pleased to see four of our graduate researchers win sought-after NHMRC postgraduate scholarships that are awarded to outstanding health and medical graduates early in their career.

And well done to Matthias Ernst and colleagues from the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute and the La Trobe University School of Cancer Medicine on their $990,000 NHMRC Development Grant to research anti-tumour immune responses and translate their discoveries with commercial partners.


Pressing on

2022 is the fifth year of the La Trobe University Press, our publishing partnership with Black Inc., which has earnt a global reputation for publishing books of high intellectual quality, substance, and originality.

There’s a terrific list of books scheduled for release in the first half of the year, including Guilty Pigs: The Weird and Wonderful History of Animal Law, a fascinating journey through the philosophy and practice of animal-related law by University of Melbourne law professors Katy Barnett and Jeremy Gans; the first ever collection of Australian poet Judith Wright’s nonfiction; and the first biography of Gwen Harwood, one of Australia’s most significant and distinctive poets.

The Press is publishing a new book by the incredibly popular Toby Walsh, Machines Behaving Badly: The Morality of AI. Toby’s first two books on AI and technology published by the La Trobe University Press have been translated into German, Korean, Polish, Arabic, Russian, Vietnamese, Romanian and Turkish, with editions published in China, North America, and the UK.

In February, an updated edition of Rory Medcalf’s Contest for the Indo-Pacific: Why China won’t map the future will also be released, covering the strategic impacts of COVID-19, China’s economic coercion against Australia, the Afghanistan withdrawal, Joe Biden, the Quad security dialogue, AUKUS, and US-China rivalry.


In closing

Once again, welcome back to La Trobe for what promises to be a productive year across our campuses. I believe that all the hard work we’ve done since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic has put us in an excellent position to have a great year at the University in 2022.

I’m planning to get out to all of our campuses over the next couple of months and look forward to connecting with you in person.

John