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Emeritus Professor Tony O’Donnell

School of Agriculture and Environment

"As you build your career, never say no to anything you are invited to, have confidence in yourself and embrace the opportunity."

Professor Tony O’Donnell was appointed Pro-Vice Chancellor and Executive Dean of Science at the University of Western Australia in July 2016. Born and educated in the UK, he graduated from the University of Glasgow in 1976 and completed his PhD at the University of Bristol in 1980. He also held an Honorary Research Fellowship and in 2006 delivered the prestigious Russell Lecture, at Rothamsted Research, UK. Professor O’Donnell retired from UWA as Professor Emeritus in 2020 and has since been employed as Professor and Senior Advisor on Research and International Collaboration in Murdoch University’s Food Futures Institute. In 2021 he was appointed as Vice President Research for AEMG Academy (Australian Education Management Group). He was also recently appointed as a Visiting Professor in Life and Environmental Sciences at the University of Sydney.

Most interesting aspect of my career

Undoubtedly, the people I have worked and travelled with who have been willing to put the time and personal effort into progressing the UWA’s internationalization agenda. I have always been impressed by their enthusiasm and ability to look at how best to position the University nationally and internationally.

Most important experiences at UWA

Working with some outstanding people to build a strong team. Together we built a Faculty that was nationally and internationally competitive in research and in teaching. This helped UWA establish and maintain its ranking and reputation as a leader in research and an innovator in teaching.

Where did you think you would end up when you began your career?

The reason I came into the University system was to do research. I managed to remain research active throughout my career and have since returned to research. I was asked early in my career to take on more leadership roles and this allowed me to develop my management skills. I had not expected to end up in Australia though I had always wanted to spend an extended period overseas.

What do you consider to be your most significant achievements?

In addition to the work done in reshaping the ‘Sciences’ at UWA, I am particularly pleased with the work at Newcastle University in the UK where I took from concept, including securing the funding, to establishment and operation the Institute for Research in Environment and Sustainability (IRES). IRES was a state of the art open plan, shared laboratory space that brought together staff and research students from across the University to deliver experimental, policy and social impact research on sustainability and the environment. Much of my early research was on natural product discovery, particularly in the Actinobacteria (Streptomyces). I was delighted in 2017 to have a new species of Streptomyces named after me (Streptomyces odonnellii). I also held adjunct positions at the Federal University in Rio de Janeiro and was awarded an Honorary doctorate (DSc, 2015) by Naresuan University for my contributions to Higher Education in Thailand. In 2012 I was awarded a Visiting Professorship for Distinguished International Researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and more recently received President’s International Research Fellowship from the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Where to from here?

I continue to work and I am currently actively engaged in securing research funding and drafting manuscripts. Like many in my position there is great deal of work that needs to be written up! My recent appointment to CAS means that I have an opportunity and the support to build a research team in China that will link to the work I am doing from here in agriculture and soil science. I have also rediscovered my guitars and hopefully my playing is improving, it cannot get worse.

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