Academic charts route to vocation, achievement

From "blurry boundaries" and business, to her mentors and people's obsession with her gender, University of Otago vice-chancellor Prof Harlene Hayne covered it all with a group of women yesterday.

Speaking at the second annual She's Motivated conference, organised by the Otago Southland Employers' Association for businesswomen, Prof Hayne shared the experiences which led to her becoming the first psychologist and first American to be appointed vice-chancellor at the university.

She also happened to be the first woman to hold the role, a point many had chosen to focus on, she said.

"Every time the issue of my gender comes up, I'm a little bit taken aback."

Her career had been "relatively gender blind"; she had not experienced special treatment, nor found any glass ceiling.

These points made her consider the "amazing women" who paved the way before her at the university.

They included the first woman graduate, Caroline Freeman, who received a BA in 1885; and Ethel Benjamin, who was the first woman to graduate in law, in 1897, and New Zealand's first woman lawyer.

There were a "number of other women" who influenced her career, including her PhD supervisor, Prof Carolyn Rovee-Collier, of Rutgers University, and controversial psychologist Prof Elizabeth Loftus.

Prof Rovee-Collier taught her to lead by example and "never expect people to do more than you would be willing to do yourself"; to stand up for herself and be able to "argue your way out of a situation where someone else appears to have the upper hand; and that "blurry boundaries" between work and home life were necessary for highly ambitious women.

Prof Hayne recalled grading papers on the side of a hockey turf and her children "growing up under [her] desk" rather than coming home to home-baked cookies.

The experiences made her a valuable role model, and taught them much about the workings of universities and how to interact with range of people.

"It has actually meant that I was able to meet the needs of my children and my own ambitions," she said.

Prof Loftus reminded her how privileged she was to be an academic and how she had an "obligation" to give back.

This motivated Prof Hayne to co-found the Innocence Project New Zealand, with Prof Maryanne Garry, of Victoria University.

The joint project between Victoria and Otago universities provided pro-bono assistance to people who had been wrongly convicted of crimes.

Prof Hayne also helped found the National Science Panel in 2006, and was appointed co-chair of Office of the Prime Minister's Science Advisory Committee Working Party on reducing social and psychological morbidity during adolescence.

While classing herself a "dyed-in-the-wool" academic, she was now enjoying being part of the business side of a university with 22,000 students, 3500 staff and an economic impact of $1.6 billion.

"Being an academic and business leader in 2011, I really do think you can have it all. For me, the thing that has allowed me to have it all has been using those models in my head of all the women who come before me."

ellie.constantine@odt.co.nz

 

 

 

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