Emeritus Prof Joan Cooper

Higher Education Consultant, previous retired Deputy Vice Chancellor at Flinders University
Senior Leadership,
Senior Management

Joan Cooper has a PhD in pure mathematics, which she obtained at a time when it wasn't traditional for women to go to university, let alone study science or maths. She has extensive experience in senior executive positions in Australian Universities, and in her retirement works as a Higher Education Consultant.

Joan was the first in her family to go to University. Her parents were '10 pound poms' who grew up in England and encouraged their children to get the education they never could. She received a Commonwealth scholarship and a teacher's scholarship and began studying science at Newcastle University.

In her second year, the university introduced a maths degree and Joan made the switch. Thanks to her scholarship she was able to undertake Honours, and her maths professor encouraged her to apply to a PhD scholarship. She was granted leave from her teaching obligations and completed her PhD in 1974.

In her studies, she found herself surrounded by men, mostly engineers, who would frequently make inappropriate remarks and jokes.

Ultimately, she navigated the challenge of working in a male-dominated environment, and was the first female science graduate with a PhD in mathematics at Newcastle University.

While working on her PhD, she married and had her first child. She was keen to continue her research career, but had to meet the obligations of her teacher’s scholarship. She approached the department with her infant daughter in arms, and due to the fact that she was married and had a small child in arms, they waived her scholarship obligations. This gave her the opportunity to become a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Newcastle.

When an opportunity for a lecturing role came up at the university, she applied and won. She continued to progress up the ranks, and in total spent 20 years there, in both student and research roles. In 1989, she left for a role at ANU, and after three years moved to the University of Wollongong where she would become Associate Professor.

Many thought of her move to the Associate Professor role as a step sideways, but it gave Joan the opportunity to be the leader of a small developing innovative IT department. She went on to become the first female Professor of Information Technology. When the department she lead was amalgamated with the Computer Science Department, she was appointed head, and then progressed to Dean. In addition she took on the role of Chair of the Academic Board. She left the University of Wollongong to take up the role of Deputy Vice Chancellor at Flinders University, where she stayed for five years.

Taking the jobs in Canberra and Adelaide were big decisions, as her husband and children were based in Wollongong. She spent this time commuting and so fully understands the challenges of working remotely from your family. Following her term in South Australia, she was keen to be near her family on the Eastern seaboard, so she accepted a Senior Executive role at the University of New South Wales for 5 years before 'retiring'. Since retirement, Joan has been undertaking consulting work in the higher education field.

Joan has formally mentored others, through the UNSW senior mentor program, which mainly involved female early career researchers and also individual academics at other Universities. She takes the approach of being an active sounding board, helping mentees talk things through, asking questions and offering advice.