Dr Robin Thompson

Honorary Doctor of Science

Citation delivered by Professor Alex Frino, Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Senior Vice-President (Innovation, Enterprise and External Relations) at the University of Wollongong on the occasion of the admission of Robin Thompson as an Honorary Doctor of Science (honoris causa) on 1 November 2022.


Deputy Chancellor, I present Professor Robin Thompson.

Raised on small dairy farms in Lancashire, England, Professor Thompson has applied his considerable talent for mathematics and scientific rigour to the field of statistical genetics, making influential discoveries that have transformed the study of animal, plant and human genetics.

On graduating from Newcastle University (UK), he joined the Agricultural Research Council Unit of Statistics in Edinburgh. At just 23 years old, he made a career-defining scientific breakthrough with Professor Desmond Patterson. This was the development of the Residual Maximum Likelihood (REML) method of estimation for variance parameters. REML is a key component of all statistical software that is used for the analysis of data arising in the human, biological, environmental, agricultural, and social sciences.

Collaborating with Australian researchers including UOW’s Professor Brian Cullis, he devised the Average Information (AI) algorithm for REML estimation. This was a transformational discovery which overcame the significant computational challenges of REML estimation in large data-sets. The AI algorithm remains the main tool implemented in statistical software for applications in genetics. Robin, together with colleagues Arthur Gilmour, Brian Cullis and Sue Welham developed a versatile and efficient software package called ASReml that is the most widely used in animal and plant breeding across the globe today.

Robin’s research career has seen him hold successive influential roles within not-for-profit sector research in the UK. His work on plant and animal breeding programs is internationally ubiquitous in its application. Widely published and a sought-after editor and conference speaker, he is held in high regard by the international scientific community. He has held several esteemed editorships and was a Council Member of the Royal Statistical Society and the International Biometric Society. In 2019, the Journal of Animal Breeding Genetics published a special edition devoted to papers presented in his honour.

Robin has demonstrated a profound commitment to fostering the next generation of biostatisticians and quantitative geneticists as a supervisor to numerous PhD students, including UOW graduates. He has been a generous mentor to emerging researchers and he continues this in his retirement. He also donated $100,000 in funds generated from ASReml royalities to establish a UOW scholarship to assist young statisticians in developing methodology for applications in animal and plant genetics.

Deputy Chancellor, Professor Robin Thompson’s contribution to the field of statistical genetics and its translational application in modern agriculture is unparalleled. His commitment to UOW is far beyond the expectations of an international collaborator.

It is a privilege to present Professor Robin Thompson for a Doctor of Science honoris causa.