Sr. Academic Administrator Talk with Chris Lonsdale

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Sr. Academic Administrator Talk with Chris Lonsdale

Professor Chris Lonsdale is the Deputy Provost of Australian Catholic University. He has a multi-disciplinary background in psychology, education, public health, and sport science which informs his research and enterprise activities focused on promoting children and adolescent’s wellbeing and learning. Leading a team of researchers and students from across ACU, Professor Lonsdale’s iPLAY program recently won the 2021 Vice-Chancellor’s award for excellence in research and research partnership. He has a strong track record of research funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council and the Australian Research Council, as well as long-standing partnerships with government and non-profit agencies in the health and education sectors. As Deputy Provost, Professor Lonsdale leads a broad suite of initiatives, including Academic Promotions, Workforce Profile and the Student Success Program.


Administrators in post-secondary education and vocational training include faculty administrators and registrars of colleges or universities and administrators of vocational training schools. Faculty administrators manage the academic and related activities of faculties of colleges or universities. Registrars manage registration activities and academic records systems of colleges or universities. Administrators of vocational training schools manage the operations of vocational schools specializing in trades, technology, business or other vocational subjects.

Job Forecast

For Administrators – post-secondary education and vocational training, over the period 2019-2028, new job openings (arising from expansion demand and replacement demand) are expected to total 6,800, while 7,200 new job seekers (arising from school leavers, immigration and mobility) are expected to be available to fill them.

As job openings and job seekers are projected to be at relatively similar levels over the 2019-2028 period, the balance between labour supply and demand seen in recent years is expected to continue over the projection period.

Employment Requirements

Faculty administrators require a graduate degree in a field related to the academic faculty and Several years of experience as a university professor or college teacher.

Registrars require an undergraduate degree in business administration or a related field and Several years of experience in registration administration.

Administrators of vocational training schools usually require an undergraduate degree in business administration or Expertise and certification in a subject of instruction.

Salary Range

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Full Length Episode:

Complete Episode Transcript

Here’s our Job Talk a Senior Academic Administrator.

Full disclosure for our listeners, Chris, you and I are childhood friends.

We grew up in a small town in British Columbia, Canada, and you’re now down in Sydney, Australia.

Did you always know that you were going to move away from Canada and live somewhere else? No, absolutely not.

But I think probably the scene was set when my parents took us to live in in Germany for three years when I was ten.

And we traveled pretty much every long weekend and holiday all around Europe, staying in campgrounds and going to what we referred to as the ABC’s Another Bloody Cathedral, because my dad was a bit of a history buff and loved to see all those things.

So now he’s more than a history buff.

It’s a total history fanatic.

But yeah, I think it probably set the scene for us for living overseas after doing that at a young age.

Your PhD is in Sports Psychology, why did you ultimately move away from that.

Your PhD is in Sports Psychology, why did you ultimately move away from that.

So my original training was in sports psychology.


And I think probably like lots of people in their mid twenties, I thought that competitive sport was sort of the most important thing.

And so I was I started a PhD at the University of Otago doing sports psychology and sort of interestingly enough, by the end of my PhD, I probably wasn’t so enamored with high performance sport.

By the end of that and over probably the next next few years after that, I started to transition away from competitive sport.

So I’ve sort of dabbled for a period of five years doing work for various organizations as well as having an academic career as opposed to the university.

But yeah, I think I sort of realized fairly early on that I didn’t want to spend my life running around with elite sportspeople, but I wanted to do something that had a bit more of a public focus.

So I started doing more in terms of public health.

So looking more at behavior change and how to help people have healthier lifestyles, that kind of thing.

Okay, so what is your what is your job title now? What changed quite recently? So about six months ago, I moved into a full time management role at the university.

So my academic duties in terms of research, teaching and service to the community are fairly limited now.

And so I’m completely a manager.

The academic bureaucracy is sort of the scourge of the earth, it’s often said, and now I’m part of it.

So yeah, it’s, it’s good fun.

Well, we’ll dig into your position and your day to day a little bit later.

What was your first post-secondary experience? So I guess it would have been early September, 1993.

A long time ago now.

Load it up a very rusty, beige Volkswagen of some description, I think, with our mutual friend Christian Road and and drove down to Victoria in British Columbia and went to UVic.

So I did my undergraduate degree if that can, and went on to do a master’s there as well.
And a master’s.

How did you enjoy your time at the University of Victoria? Well, I was there quite a while because I think the first couple of years I sort of wandered around from different major to major.

I thought I was going to go and do sort of some sort of pre-medical degree and some kind of science and then a first semester of first year, I thought my biology lecture was probably one of the more boring people on earth and decided, yeah, not allowed to do that.

And it’s a funny thing about being a doctor.

You need to do biology.

So yeah.

So I ended up switching around a few different degrees.
I started doing a math degree for a little while and, and started was going to do education and then ended up doing a degree in psychology.

So yeah, I finished my bachelor’s in psychology and then went on and did the Masters in Sports Psych and I loved Victoria.

It was great.

I mean, I was I was there for about seven years to those two degrees and made great friends, quite a lot of rugby while I was at the university and managed to squeeze in some school work as well.

So that was.

How was your you played rugby.

That was your your sport when you were at the University of Victoria.

What is it like being a athlete and taking a pretty heavy course load? Yeah, I wouldn’t really know because I didn’t really take a very heavy course load until the last year and I decided I really wanted to finish and I actually I realized that I was going to have to take I think it was like seven classes one semester and you’re actually not allowed to take seven classes.

So I actually had to I think it was apply to the provost or one of the people who in the job that I’m in now for special permission to take extra, extra classes because my first two or three years of university, I mucked about so much and switched and swapped and spent too much time at the pub in.

So yeah.

But you know, I think in the last year and a half I really did do a lot of schoolwork and a lot of sport and had a job bartending and waiting at a restaurant.

Yeah, it was it was fun.

I mean, I think when you’re when you’re that age, you don’t really think about it.

You just sort of do lots of different things and enjoy all of it.

And it’s it’s all just good fun.

You leave the University of Victoria and that and you mentioned you had your PhD in sports Psychol psychology, is that correct? Yeah.

So that was in New Zealand.
Oh sorry.

So the, the PhD came when you went to New Zealand and that was the University of Otago.

Yes, I did a bachelor’s in a master’s at UVic and then I had a bit of time off, probably a year, maybe a little bit more kind of mucking about in Vancouver, doing various different jobs, and then went off to off to New Zealand to do my Ph.D.

and, and kept playing rugby down there.
And yeah, like many, I don’t know, 23, 24 year olds, whatever it was at the time, I really wasn’t choosing my career path for all of the probably the smartest reasons I largely chose that university because I knew somebody there and because I wanted to keep playing rugby and New Zealand has lots of rugby, so that was about as smart as I thought about it.

And it gets you down to New Zealand.

Beautiful country.

It’s great.

So this is a 20 to 40 minute podcast.

We could probably go on for hours if we went day by day.

What happened in your life after leaving the University of Victoria? But how did you end up in Australia? It was a pretty circuitous path to get here.

Yeah, I finished my PhD and then like a lot of academics, you sort of just kind of put your CV out there to the world.

I mean, and you have to be you can’t be particularly choosy.

You know, you might have to just go and live somewhere that you might not want to be.

Now, I actually funnily enough, I had I had two job offers coming out of my PhD, and one was where you are in Edmonton and one was in Hong Kong.

And again, probably not making the smartest career decision but probably making the the better life decision.

I ended up going for the one in Hong Kong, the one of the University of Alberta and Edmonton was probably a better job in terms of advancing my career.

But yeah, living in Hong Kong and and my partner at the time, I wouldn’t have been able to get a visa for Canada anyway.

So it was all just kind of came together and ended up going to Hong Kong.

And then I went to Ireland and arrived the month that the global financial crisis happened.

And within two years it was pretty clear that you weren’t going to have a lot of job security in Ireland.

And so sat down with a map and said, right, first, good job that comes up on the west coast of Canada or the east coast of Australia.

Let’s go.

And the job in Sydney came up and we went.

So that’s how we ended up in Australia.

Well, it’s debatable lifestyle choice between Edmonton or Hong Kong, but that’s that’s an entirely different conversation.

Okay, let’s talk about your position right now.

Where are you working and what do you do in your day to day? Yeah, so I’m at the Australian Catholic University in Sydney, so we have campuses all across sort of the eastern seaboard of of Australia.

And so I’m the deputy provost.

And so what that means is the provost is kind of in charge of the four faculties that we have across the university, and I’m essentially her right hand man.

So I mean, I don’t teach a lot anymore.

I do some research, but mostly it’s about trying to keep the organization running and going on on a strategic path.

I mean, it doesn’t sound particularly exciting, but I do a lot of work on policy.

So, you know, we have things like, you know, how and when people get promoted and how we allocate their their workloads.

So what they’re doing kind of in their day to day.

So we have somewhere around a thousand academics.

So setting the policy to make sure that, you know, we’ve got people doing what they need to be doing and making sure that they sort of understand what success looks like for the organization and then feel confident and enthusiastic about achieving those things.

And we do a lot of that through sort of policy and procedures to make that happen.

So yeah, it’s a lot of you’d think policy would be sort of like just sitting down at your keyboard and writing something.

But that’s actually said at the very end part.

The, the earlier part is all about, you know, understanding the context and having a lot of consultation, really kind of listen to what people are saying.

So what’s hard for them, what they want.

So, yeah, it’s it’s a lot of a lot of listening and trying to sort of think creatively about the problem at hand.

So a lot of analytical skills.

So, you know, this, what’s the problem here? And, you know, how can we make that happen in a way that’s not going to cost the organization more, but it’s more effective for people.

So it’s it’s pretty it’s interesting work, actually, and I’ve only been at this about six months, so in a year and a half, maybe I’ll have a better sense of of whether I really like it or if I like, if I like or not, just because it’s new.

But yeah, at the moment I’m really enjoying it.

Chris What do you enjoy most about, about your career right now? Universities are sort of at an interesting point right now, you know, all over the world.

But in Australia, especially in that, you know, the job of an academic is really changing.

You know, that’s not just because of the pandemic.

You know, there’s a lot of sort of shift to make sure that your your work is really relevant for, you know, for the for the country, for the for this for society.

And so the jobs are really changing.

Obviously, information technology had a massive influence on that as well.

You know, the way that the pandemic and online learning and everything has changed things.

So academics are definitely feeling pretty challenged right now.

So when you can sort of listen to what they’re saying and then do something about it, not for the individual but for like for the whole university and then, you know, see a change in that.

That’s that’s pretty gratifying.

So we’ve had a we’ve had a problem with this university that people don’t apply for promotion very often.

They and, you know, I suppose on the one hand, from an economic point of view, you might think that’s a good thing because it doesn’t cost the university more money because it does pay them more.

But, you know, we want people to progress at the university.

We want them to have a career here.

We want them to succeed and we want them to feel good and do good work.

So we we have a rate of people applying for promotion that’s much lower than other universities in Australia.

So in the last year or so we’ve been going through this process to revamp our promotions policy and a lot of that is involve consultation with the academics and at the end of that we’ve we’ve doubled the number of applications that we got this year.

And anecdotally people are telling us it’s because they have more confidence in the process now.

So yes, it’s something like that.

I mean, if if you can help people feel better about their work and it makes a difference to their day to day life and to their career trajectory, then that feels pretty good.


What are some obvious challenges in in your role that you face every day? People that probably don’t think about it, but universities are really large organizations.

I mean, you know, even a modest sized university would have like $500 million of revenue in a year.

And so because of that, they’re they’re pretty large organizations that comes with a lot of of bureaucracy potentially.

And even if you don’t have a lot of bureaucracy, you’ve got a lot of interests from different parts of the university.

And so trying to coordinate something across the whole institution is pretty challenging.

I mean, you know, when you’ve got more than more than 2000 employees, all told across the university, about half of them are academics trying to get something, you know, that seems like it should be reasonably straightforward.

Done can be pretty challenging because you’ve got a lot of different interests across and people have different goals.

So yeah, they see the world pretty differently.

So yeah, it’s coordination is probably the biggest, biggest challenge.

What kind of advice could you give somebody that would like to follow your career path and end up in a position like like yourself? The people who do well in academia are curious and they they follow things that really interest them.

They they tend not to, thankfully, get into this career for the money they get in it because they’re really interested in the topic.

And the best ones I think, follow that curiosity and have an innate or learned appreciation for passing on that passion for something to other people, so to their students.

So they get asked to start with that sort of intrinsic interest in something that you think is worth worth looking at.

And then if you can find a way to make sure that the thing that you’re looking at is interesting and has some benefit for society, then I think that’ll help sustain you.

So that’s sort of how to be in academia.

And then if you wanted to be in management, in academia, I probably have to think about that one a little bit more.

I think probably the biggest thing you could do is it’s really developed here, your your listening skills and your negotiating skills and your influencing skills, you know, you know, you’re not going to do very well at a university or probably at any sort of managerial kind of role or management role.

If you’re constantly having to rely on sort of your position of authority to get something done.

And that’s something that’s really tried to make sure that I’m try to convince people, show people a better way, think about creative ways, sort of try and empathize with their situations.

So really trying to understand what what’s hard for them, what they’re trying to achieve and then come up with a solution that works for them so that they they get on board and they want they want to help you drive the change.

So anything you can be doing in your in your career to be learning those kinds of skills would probably be pretty useful.

But as I said, I’m pretty new to the management thing, so I wouldn’t suggest that got it all figured out, but that’s that’s what I’m shooting towards anyway.

What surprises have you experienced throughout your career? And I’m wondering if maybe one of the surprises is you didn’t continue a career based rate on psychology or sports psychology? Yeah, look, I mean, I think if you asked that at 23 year old me, if I’d be doing this, maybe the management thing, actually, I think I probably wouldn’t have been not surprised.

And I remember really early on, even as a PhD student talking to the dean of our faculty and sort of thinking that would be pretty interesting.

But yeah, I probably would have been a little bit surprised I think if you’d asked high school me I would have been really surprised because I was pretty certain that was going to end up in medicine and I just just didn’t I didn’t pursue that in the end.

So yeah, I think that track that I’ve taken, the other things that have surprised me.

Look, I mean, you know, if I think about where what academia and universities were like when I started, I mean, you know, the Internet wasn’t even a thing.

So, I mean, the the rate of which we can we can create knowledge and transfer knowledge across the world.

I mean, that’s just incredible.

I mean, we had card catalogs when I started university.

Yeah, microfiche, that kind of thing.

I mean, like, that’s that’s clearly the most surprising thing.

I mean, now, I mean, I remember the very first and actually was the only one I ever did, but the very first article I ever published, like I printed it and sent it in the mail and, you know, that just unfathomable.

Now you just, you know, the the exchange of ideas is so fast and the opportunity to collaborate with somebody that you’ve never met on the other side of the world, I mean, it happens all the time.

You just email somebody out of the blue and say, Hey, I’m interested in this.

You know, would you be interested in looking at that with me? And, you know, a lot of the times they say yes.

And just I couldn’t couldn’t even imagine that when I started my career.

So that’s probably the most surprising thing.

But that’s the same for so many industries, I’m sure.


What advice could you give yourself and let’s say time travel existed and you’re hopping on a plane flying to New Zealand.

What do you think you would say to yourself as you started that literal journey? Look, I probably when I was getting started there, I probably would have tried to reach out to sort of more disciplines across the university earlier.

So I probably got a little bit sort of narrow and focused, and that happens a lot with a Ph.D.

sort of so focus on one tiny little sliver of the universe that probably you can lose a bit of that context.

So, you know, I probably should have been talking more to, you know, people over in public health and education and different parts of the university.

And then I did a reasonable job of sort of reaching out to working with Elite sporting organizations, too, while I was doing my Ph.D.

So that was good.

But yeah, probably just probably would have diversified a little earlier, might have set me up for sort of what I was going to do later on.

But instead I just kind of did that later on and learned on the hop kind of thing.

How do you like living in Australia? It’s good.
I mean it’s been a bit rough this year.
We’ve had floods and and I mean we’ve had fires the year before and obviously Covid’s and everybody.

But now it’s it’s great.

I mean, we Sydney Sydney is a pretty great city to live in.

Pretty fortunate to live near the beach and get to walk down there with the dog every morning, which is which is pretty nice.

I mean, I like to be outside a lot riding my bike and playing golf and doing that kind of thing.

And you can do that pretty much year round here, which is which is nice.


So it’s yeah, it’s good to enjoy it.

I mean, it’s a long way from everywhere else.

It feels like sometimes, but that’s okay.

You can get on a plane or you could at least until the pandemic.

Oh, you know, I’m going to ask you a little bit about the pandemic.

What was it like down in Australia going through the pandemic? Because I have a few thoughts on what it was like living in Canada, but how did Australia handle it? Well, it was pretty different, I think, than a lot of other places.

I mean, they closed the borders pretty early and they were pretty draconian about how they handled that.

I mean, there were a lot of people, you know, stuck on one side of that border or the other with family on the other, you know, and not just sort of adult parents and things like that.

It was, you know, literally your kids were on the other side of the border.

And because of some issue, you couldn’t get back.

You know, and as Australians and I am an Australian now, like we literally weren’t allowed to leave, like you just were not allowed to travel overseas unless you had a special permission.

So yeah, it felt a little odd actually, and there was a lot of questions raised about the legality of that kind of thing.

So yeah, we, we, we locked down pretty hard and pretty early.

You know, I think we did a pretty reasonable job of adhering to public health orders.

And they were orders.

They weren’t guidelines, they were orders.

And and I think, you know, the that was a good thing in a lot of ways.

I mean, I think the the at the other end, we we looked pretty good.

I think there were times when the government could have done it in sort of explaining things a little more and but that’s that’s pretty hard.

Communication’s hard in a pandemic.

We we did well.

And in terms of the sort of death rate, I mean, we’ve had 10,000 people die when that as a as a rate, that’s that’s pretty good compared to a lot of other countries.
So it’s yeah, it’s been hard for everybody, but I think Australia is probably weather it a little better than, than most countries.

That’s my sense anyway.

Yeah, I, I’m looking forward to all the interesting documentaries that are going to come out on the pandemic and actually the Trump Trump presidency.

I’m looking forward to all the behind the scenes documentaries on that.

Yeah, I remember when the when the pandemic started and I was listening to this guy and he was Harvard public health epidemiologist and, and it was right when it started.

And he was saying, look, this is this is going to be a big thing.

And it’s it’s probably the effects are going to be about five years.

And I remember talking to a few people about that and just people were incredulous that, no way, five years.

Come on.

That’s looking pretty, pretty bang on at this point, really.

I mean, we’re nowhere close to being back to normal.

I mean, we’re now having another spike here and yeah, it’s it’s changed everything.

It really has.

It has changed everything.

And I’m most concerned about I’ve got younger kids.

Well, they’re getting older now, but it was hard psychologically on them for sure.

And well, my son thought it was great.

He he loved time.

He loved home school.

Hey, that was great.

He could bang, bang out his schoolwork in 2 hours and then call his friends and play Fortnite.

So they thought that was great history.

And how old is he? He’s 11.

So he yeah, he loves online games.

I was watching my ten year old son at the time.

He was walking around with a Chromebook and he was often shirtless.

So his camera was off and I would see him in the backyard and his fort.

He’d be in the kitchen, he’d be downstairs.

So I don’t know how much education you got over those two years, but will will cross that road.

Some other time.

Chris, I just want to say you’ve forged out a great career in that it’s taken you to beautiful places all over the world and you clearly are doing something that that you love to do.

So congratulations on on the career and the choices that you’ve made, because not everyone, not everyone makes choices and lands in a job that they truly love.

So congratulations on that.

And thanks again.

You know, I just want to thank you for joining us today and sharing some of your stories.

My pleasure.

Thank you for tuning in to the Job Talk Podcast.

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Our podcast music was created by our friend Mike Malone in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

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