University of Newcastle's Vice Chancellor named South Australia’s new chief scientist

New chapter: Caroline McMillen said her departure from UON was the "right decision at the right time for both myself and the institution". Picture: Marina Neil
New chapter: Caroline McMillen said her departure from UON was the "right decision at the right time for both myself and the institution". Picture: Marina Neil

OUTGOING University of Newcastle Vice-Chancellor Professor Caroline McMillen has been named South Australia’s fifth chief scientist.

“When this opportunity came up it really was just such a fit for me,” said Professor McMillen, who is also a biomedical researcher and has had a 30 year career in science.

“I’ll be very clearly taking my priorities from both the Premier and the Minister and clearly focusing on leveraging the great science the state has into connections with industry and business to really support the emergence of new jobs in the future workforce.

“There’s a really great sense of being able to be a connector, a catalyst, a champion for science. 

“This is a role I can see genuinely making a difference, working with a government that’s committed to this.

“The opportunity here is being able to take the experience honed in leadership –  and I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed being part of the UON, being part of the regions we serve, watching great leadership around and watching how joined-up leadership delivers – and I’m going to carry Newcastle with me wherever I am.”

Professor McMillen announced in November last year she would retire from her role at UON in October 2018, a year before the end of her contract.

“When you step back and have a look at significant leadership roles you find five years is too short and 10 years is too long, so somewhere around seven is just right.

“So I took that decision and was clear that you always want to transition to new leadership when an institute is really on the up – that’s a great opportunity.”

Professor McMillen moved to Australia in 1983 to lecture at Monash University.

She was appointed in 1992 as Professor, Chair and Head of the Department of Physiology at the University of Adelaide.

She accepted a position of Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Vice President of Research and Innovation at the University of South Australia in 2005, a role she held before moving to UON in 2011.

She said her highlights at UON included travelling with the Ma and Morley scholars, connecting with the Paul Ramsay Foundation, moving up 84 places in the QS Rankings since 2014, increasing the international student base “around 16 per cent year on year”, bringing to life the Central Coast Medical School and working with civic and industry leaders.

Professor McMillen said in establishing NeW Space, UON had “backed the fact that with public transport we should be able to be part of a change in the city and to a large extent that’s come through” and was seeing student numbers increase.

Professor McMillen’s last day at UON will be September 21.

She will relocate with her physician husband Barry Dowell, who works between Adelaide and the Northern Territory, and start her new role on October 15.

“Of course I’m going to miss Newcastle. Whenever I land at Newcastle Airport it makes me feel ‘Yes, I’m home’ and that’s something very powerful.

“We’ll be up and having a good look around to see how it’s going.”

Dr Alex Zelinsky is UON’s next Vice-Chancellor.