Prof Karen Farquharson

Head of the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne.,previously Professor of Sociology in the Faculty of Health, Arts & Design and Associate Dean of Research and Development, Head Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences at Swinburne University
Melbourne Victoria
Humanities and Social Sciences
Senior Leadership

Karen Farquharson is a sociologist with research interests in the areas of diversity, race and ethnic relations, the media, and sport. Currently, she is Head of the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne.

Karen grew up in the US, where she undertook her education. After completing her undergraduate degree in social science, she worked in public health. Wanting to further her education, she went on to do Masters and PhD degrees in Sociology with Harvard University.

After a one-year Fulbright Fellowship in the University of Cape Town in South Africa, Karen became interested in studying racism. It was the mid 1990s, post-apartheid, and the challenges of dismantling a racist system were apparent. She was drawn to doing research in this area.

Not long after she returned from South Africa, her Australian partner (who had just finished his PhD) received a job offer in Melbourne. She moved to Australia in 1997 for what, she thought
then, would be a short time. She was offered a job in a research centre funded by the Cancer Council, which although not in her preferred area of research, gave Karen then opportunity to be named on the grant as the key post doc, and to work part-time while raising young children.

For the next 15 years Karen was at Swinburne University. She commenced as a Lecturer B, and was then asked to Chair her small department of 10 people as Head of Social and Policy Studies.

After a departmental restructure she was invited to take a leadership role in the new structure, and became Head of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences. Taking on this role was a big decision. The faculty was going through a formal change process, and she needed to keep people enthusiastic and influence the structure and strategy. Ultimately, she was pleased with the outcome, which had a positive impact in her area.

She took an opportunity to act in the role of Associate Dean Research within the Faculty, following which she applied for the position and won it. Karen is proud of her achievements as Associate Dean of Research. She developed effective processes to support research, which resulted in improved performance of the Faculty.

Karen recently moved to The University Melbourne where she leads a large school in the Faculty of Arts.

Karen has lots of previous experience in mentoring, and enjoys seeing people develop and helping them shine. She is acutely aware of the importance of institutional politics and has experience in paying attention to and navigating political environments. As a mentor, her approach is to listen, ask questions, and help her mentee determine what they want to achieve.