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Dean of Health Sciences and Wellbeing to retire

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Published on 06 July 2023

Professor Tony Alabaster
Professor Tony Alabaster

After more than 30 years’ service to the University of Sunderland, Professor Tony Alabaster retires this month.

Over the years, Tony has made an outstanding contribution to the University, particularly in the areas of health and environment. Since 2016 he has lead the Faculty of Health Sciences and Wellbeing, playing a lead role in the transformation of the City Campus.

He says: “It’s been a privilege to play such a pivotal role in the development of the University and in particular to see health and wellbeing education, research and knowledge exchange grow and develop.

“We’ve seen significant investment in all of this Faculty’s Schools and the icing on the cake has been the recent formation of the University’s two health-led Research Institutes, namely the Helen McArdle Nursing and Care Research Institute, and the John Dawson Drug Discovery and Development Research Institute. I wish to say a huge thank you to all my colleagues who have been so central to all these wonderful developments.

“I’m looking forward to maintaining my connections to the University which has been such a large part of my life and career.”

Professor Michael Young, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) says: “It has been a great pleasure to work with Tony during his seven years as Academic Dean.

“Under his leadership the Faculty has undergone a remarkable transformation - in its sheer scale and level of ambition. We’ve been joined by whole new staff teams, with commensurate increases in student numbers, seen the Faculty’s estate and facilities radically enhanced and we’ve moved with confidence and success into new teaching and research areas - nursing, allied health and medicine. Thanks to his many contributions during this time, the Faculty can look forward to every success in the future.”

Born and bred in Leeds, Tony decided from an early age that he was not going to follow in his father’s footsteps and work down the coal mines. Instead, he pursued his interest in sciences which led him to a place at the city’s University.

The first in his family to graduate from university, Tony had no great career path set out before him, but a chance meeting with one of his professors in a local pub on the day of his graduation led to a discussion about a PhD with the Open University in Milton Keynes.

This marked the start of his journey into academia. Following his PhD, he became a Post Doctoral Research Fellow, which then led to one of the most exciting and significantly challenging roles in his career that he would face – working as a research scientist with the British Antarctic Survey, based in Cambridge.

For the next four years, Tony spent time in the Antarctic. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I spent two field seasons in the Antarctic investigating the environmental and health implications if the Antarctic was ever exploited for its energy and metalliferous resources” says Tony.

When the project came to an end, Tony was keen to continue working in academia and spotted a job as Senior Lecturer with the University of Sunderland’s former School of Environment. The north-east region was completely new to Tony, but a place he would come to call his home, raise his family and begin the next chapter of his career, lasting over 33 years.

Tony quickly established the Centre for Environmental Informatics (CEI) research group, and through merit promotion rounds, Tony worked his way up to Reader and then Professor, holding a number of Associate Dean roles along the way, primarily in research and external engagement.

In 2016 he became Academic Dean for the current Faculty of Health Sciences and Wellbeing.

He says “I am immensely proud of all the students who have graduated over the years from this University, and it’s always wonderful to see where their journey has taken them.

“For me personally, there has never been a grand plan. I just embraced the opportunities that came my way and have met some truly inspiring colleagues and friends over the years.”

Tony, now aged 68, says “There comes a point when it’s time to retire and I feel as though my contribution to the Faculty and to the University has now run its natural course and the reins need to be picked-up by someone new in order to continue the Faculty’s evolution and development.”

But when asked about his plans for his rapidly impending retirement, he was heard to have said “I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it, but I readily admit that the bridge is now in full sight. Onwards and upwards.”