From student to teacher

Steve Blackburn (PhD ‘93)
02 Sep 2022

I started a PhD at The Australian National University (ANU) in the 90s. It was an exciting time to study Computer Science at ANU, there was a tight-knit group of academics doing interesting work and the University had just begun its Fujitsu CAP program - which was innovative and drove a lot of interesting research. The program was the backbone of several PhDs, including mine.

My PhD years were formative. I became really hungry to know more and enjoyed the excitement of doing something new and creative, while solving interesting problems. Computer Science was much smaller at that point and there were far less PhD students, so I knew everyone well and a good friendship group formed out of my PhD cohort. We did some great work together and it's been inspirational to watch my PhD buddies, see where they've gone with their careers and the wonderful things they've done.

My PhD supervisor was Robin Stanton. He was head of the University's Computer Science department and Robin became Dean, then Deputy Vice-Chancellor in the period he was supervising me as a PhD student. To me he was a generous supervisor - but more importantly - he was a leader at ANU, who really galvanized that new Fujitsu CAP program. Now, I am lucky to know Robin as a good friend, and we have remained in contact since.

I was fortunate to have Robin as a PhD supervisor. He has rich international connections, which allowed me to spend periods of my PhD in Scotland, working with a group of researchers at St Andrews. That experience was extremely valuable.

I can remember vividly, towards the end of my PhD, I was driving back to Edinburgh from St Andrews with Robin and my host, a man named Ron Morrison. I was expressing my gratitude to them both, for putting me up and for letting me come all this way to Scotland to work on my PhD. The gruff Scotsman, Ron, sort of barked back at me and said, 'well make sure that you do this for your students, when you become a professor'. I still remember him saying that and I took that very seriously.

Now, I am a teacher at ANU. Whenever I can, I give my students opportunities like that, because I know how transformational it is when you get the opportunity to travel, to meet other people, see other ways of doing things and just enjoy a different academic culture. It's something I'll be forever grateful for.

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