Incoming Vice-Chancellor Professor Irene Tracey reflects on her journey from Oxford student to leader of the University, and what you can expect from her time in office.
Welcome back to the start of Hilary term! I hope you are settling back into the rhythm of student life now that we’re heading into Week 2. Despite the cold weather, Oxford is looking spectacular with the winter frost and sun, so do enjoy our beautiful parks for some fresh air. I’m new to the job as your Vice-Chancellor, and so here I want to give you a feel for what you can expect from me. I’m also keen to meet with students (you can find out more at the end of this message about how I plan to do that).
My Oxford journey
I am ‘Made in Oxford’. I grew up just outside Oxford and was fortunate to come and study biochemistry at the University at an undergraduate and graduate level. After a brief postdoctoral position at Harvard University, I returned to Oxford where I have spent my academic career as a researcher and educator. I love this place, and I hope you do too.
Although it was back in the mists of time, I understand and remember what it is like to study at Oxford. Life was different back then in many ways (no email, no social media for example), but the core role that tutorials, lectures, practical classes play in your learning and defining the pattern of the day remains the same. As do the close friendships that you form here that remain for life, trust me. I was an active undergraduate enjoying most sports as well as music, and I loved the fact that Oxford had such a global mix of students here, particularly during my graduate years. My seven years here as a student were extraordinarily enriching. I think you appreciate that all the more with the passage of time.
Equally, I have worked as a member of staff, including as a Head of Department (Nuffield Department Clinical Neurosciences) and college Head of House (Merton College). In these roles, I have been a passionate advocate for staff and students in terms of their experience and the conditions of their working environment. I have held many national and international roles on various scientific and academic bodies, and so I have a good sense of the role that an outstanding place like Oxford University must play locally, nationally and globally. I believe my experience in all these roles will serve me well as I take the helm and steer Oxford in its next phase of evolution. My predecessor, Professor Dame Louise Richardson, has left us all a terrific foundation on which to take this great place forward, and so I’d like to acknowledge and thank her here for seven years of outstanding leadership.
My priorities as Vice-Chancellor
As Vice-Chancellor, I represent the University globally and locally. I am responsible for its strategic direction and leadership: chairing key committees, and convening our people to take key decisions about the future.
While I represent the University internationally, I am particularly honoured to support you. Students are the lifeblood of any academic community, and I am determined to help you make the most of your Oxford experience.
As you may be aware from my admission ceremony, I have four priorities, all of which I hope will have a positive impact on you as students.
My first priority (you may well be pleased to know) is education and teaching. I aim to help students have a positive experience whichever college or department they study in; and build on our pandemic experience to think about different ways that we can teach, learn and examine. I also want to celebrate and talk more about our world-class teaching and its impact through you – the intellectual capital we release to the world.
My second priority is discovery and translational research – working with wider society to come up with innovative solutions to the big global issues of our time, such as the energy crisis and climate change. It’s also important that we continue building a global innovation hub here in Oxford – helping you and our staff make innovative ideas come to life and to create more jobs in the Oxford ecosystem.
Thirdly, I will focus on local and global engagement. This starts with building our relationship with the city we have been part of for over 800 years. Many of you already volunteer in the local community – whether through the Oxford Hub, Raise and Give, or the wide range of college-led programmes. We should build on this positive action to improve our links with the community. Think Global. Act Local.
Finally, I plan to focus on our people. The University’s academic and support staff make the student journey what it is. It is my absolutely priority for me to make sure the University is doing everything it can to support staff during these difficult financial times - so that they can continue supporting you, and further their incredible research.
As your Vice-Chancellor, it is very important to me that I understand your concerns and experiences. I am also keen to hear your ideas about how we can make a positive impact at Oxford and beyond; and I would like you to feel that your voices are heard, and that you are part of ongoing conversations about Oxford life. This is what I’ve done in my former roles, and I intend to continue those close dialogues with students.
That is why I will be finding ways to connect direct with you. In the first instance, I’d like to invite you for an informal walk in the University Parks with me and my gorgeous Golden Retriever dog, Geoffrey Biscuit. We’ll limit this to five or six at a time – likely once per week, so if you would like to come along, just fill in this form.
I look forward to meeting many of you soon, and I wish you all the best for the term ahead.
Professor Irene Tracey
Vice-Chancellor, University of Oxford