University of Sydney business, human rights law, psychology, and education experts have been honoured by the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia. Professors Clinton Free, David Kinley, Frans Verstraten, and Helen Watt have been appointed Fellows of the national NGO devoted to the advancement of social science knowledge and research.
They join 33 other social science experts in this year’s appointment round, and over 700 in total. To become a Fellow of the Academy, individuals must be nominated by three existing Fellows, and have demonstrated an outstanding contribution to one or more fields of social science research or practice in Australia.
Professor Clinton Free is Deputy Dean and Head of School, University of Sydney Business School. His research expertise in white collar crime has seen him recognised academically and publicly – he featured regularly in Australian true crime podcasts including The Australian's Who the Hell is Hamish? and the Australian Financial Review's The Sure Thing. After receiving his doctorate from the University of Oxford where he was a Rhodes Scholar, he served on faculties and taught MBA courses at three international universities: the University of Oxford (UK), Cornell University (USA), and Queen’s University (Canada), before returning to Sydney. “I am honoured to join such an illustrious group of Fellows, a cohort which includes some of my mentors,” he said. “I have long admired the Academy’s commitment to promoting understanding and awareness of research in public forums. Now more than ever, I think it is important that academics engage the public in what they do.”
Professor David Kinley, Chair of Human Rights Law, Sydney Law School was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland and raised there during some of the worst years of The Troubles. “My journey into human rights began then, even if I didn't realise it,” he said. As well as having lectured at several of the world’s top universities (including Oxford and Harvard) and worked with key international bodies like the UN, he is an Expert Member of Doughty Street Chambers, London, specialising in the profound and intriguing intersections between human rights and the global economy. One of his nominators said: “Professor Kinley has been at the forefront of development of human rights scholarship, policy and practice for more than 30 years. For example, his Cambridge doctorate inspired the British government to establish a parliamentary scrutiny committee to accompany the UK’s Human Rights Act in 1998.”
Professor Frans Verstraten, Head of School and McCaughey Chair of Psychology is mostly known for his work on perceptual adaptation: the processes underlying calibration of an observer’s perceptual systems to fast- changing environments. For example, drivers typically underestimate their speed when they have been on a highway for some time and return into a residential area with a 50 km/h speed limit. They do, however, adjust to the new conditions in a relatively fast manner. Known as ‘gain control’, these kinds of brain adjustments make it possible to function optimally under a wide range of conditions.
An ambassador for multidisciplinary approaches to studying the brain and behaviour, Professor Verstraten was instrumental in integrating the University’s School of Psychology with its Brain and Mind Research Institute. I am glad and proud that my advocacy for multidisciplinary research has been acknowledged by this prestigious fellowship,” he said. He also values public engagement highly, having participated in a science show for seven seasons on national TV, and even published CDs containing his lectures.
The research of Helen Watt, Professor of Educational Psychology falls into two main categories: motivation in relation to the declining participation in advanced sciences and mathematics, especially by girls, and the engagement and wellbeing of early-career teachers, together with Professor Paul Richardson at Monash University.
“Valid data identifying long-term trends and influences are needed to understand and address the move away from STEM fields, and attract and sustain effective teachers in the profession,” she said.
She initiated and convenes Network Gender & STEM, whose members aim to gain greater insight into the careers of people in STEM fields.
Hero image: L-R: Professor Clinton Free, Professor David Kinley, Professor Hans Verstraten, Professor Helen Watt.