Professor Paul Else wears a red graduation gown and stands in front of a UOW wall. Photo: Andy Zakeli

Emeritus Professor Paul Else reflects on decades-long career at UOW

Emeritus Professor Paul Else reflects on decades-long career at UOW

Renowned biomedical scientist recognised for significant contributions to teaching and research

The University of Wollongong (UOW) that Professor Paul Else remembers as an undergraduate student is a far cry from the university from which he retired a few years ago.

Back then, in the 1970s, UOW had only recently become a fully-fledged university from its earlier life as a technical college for steelmakers and metallurgists.

As Professor Else remembers, the campus was home to only a handful of buildings, most people knew each other, and parking was free.

“Though small at the time, the fledgling university provided a great learning environment with time to enjoy a vibrant social scene.”

Today (Thursday 12 April), Professor Else was honoured by the University to whom he devoted much of his career. During the graduation ceremony for the Faculty of Science, Medicine and Health, in front of many of his former colleagues, Professor Else was conferred as an Emeritus Professor.

Emeritus Professorships are awarded to academics who have demonstrated outstanding achievements, exceptional service, and significant contributions to the University.

Professor Else was honoured for his contribution to leadership, teaching, and research, and for the rich experience, expertise, and collegiality to advancing the University’s culture and standing as a leading institution.

It was a tremendous honour for Professor Else, who played a significant role in the development of biomedical science at UOW.

“When I arrived back at Wollongong the new formed Department of Biomedical Science was just establishing itself with several new enthusiastic academics who worked together to strive for excellence and help shape the future of the department.”

Born in England and raised in the Illawarra, Professor Else attended Corrimal and Austinmer Primary Schools, followed by Bulli High School. In the 1970s, he undertook a Bachelor of Sciences (Honours Class 1) at UOW, with his research work editorialised by the American Journal of Physiology as “splendid”.

He went on to complete his PhD at the University where he served as a Research Associate, before winning a prestigious CSIRO Postdoctoral Fellowship to work at the University of California and the CSIRO Division of Human Nutrition in Adelaide. Following this, Professor Else relocated to the University of Melbourne, followed by Charles Sturt University and Deakin University. He looks back on this time with fondness and said he has loved having the opportunity to experience numerous research institutes and universities in Australia and internationally.

But at the time, Professor Else and his wife wanted to raise their expanding family in the Illawarra, close to the beach and at a place where he knew he could achieve a strong balance between work and life. When the invitation came to return to UOW, Professor Else jumped at the opportunity.

“I always hoped to return to the University of Wollongong but it’s always difficult to be the right person at the right time at the right level in the right area, I got lucky.”

Back at UOW, Professor Else joined the newly formed Department of Biomedical Science, where his research blossomed under the mentorship of then head Professor Leonard Storlien.

“Leonard created one of the most vibrant research cultures I have ever experienced,” Professor Else says. “It was driven by intellectually curiosity. We were given the support and the resources to pursue our research without compromising on the quality of our teaching.”

While known as a biomedical scientist who specialises in membrane lipids in metabolism, Professor Else’s research is hard to pigeonhole. It encompasses a diversity of subjects with applications that range from lactating dinosaurs to ageing in honeybees, postnatal depression to ageing in human brains.

With more than 100 publications to his name, and a host of international collaborations with Cambridge, Aarhus and Brest Universities, Professor Else has established himself as an outstanding academic as well as a valued teacher and mentor. He estimates that over the course of his career, he has lectured to close on 250,000 students across his biomedical subjects.

Professor Theo Farrell, Warwick Shanks, Professor Paul Else, and Professor David Currow all wear graduation gowns and caps and stand in front of a white UOW wall. Photo: Andy Zakeli UOW Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic and Student Life) Professor Theo Farrell, Deputy Chancellor Warwick Shanks, Emeritus Professor Paul Else, and Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Sustainable Futures) Professor David Currow.

Despite his strong research track record, it is clear Professor Else enjoyed teaching as much as the research.

“Unlike some academics I really enjoy both the research and teaching components of being an academic and using my research experience to inform my teaching.”

Professor Else took over as head of the Department of Biomedical Sciences during what he describes as a period of difficulty and cost cutting in the University’s history. He later served as Head of School, Faculty Research Chair, Discipline Leader, Course Coordinator, and more. Today, Paul remains an Honorary Professor at UOW’s School of Medical, Indigenous and Health Sciences still contributing to teaching and publishing research work.

He is proud of the research culture he fostered in the department and of the postgraduate students he mentored, many of whom have gone on to have their own outstanding careers.

“One of the real highlights is increasing the research output while preserving the teaching profile and other functions of the Department of Biomedical Science during a period of constraint at the University,” he said.

“Another is working with outstanding researchers such as Professor Anthony Hulbert [UOW] on membrane lipid composition, Professor Martin Brand [Cambridge University and Buck Institute] on membranes lipids and metabolism, and Professor Flemming Cornelius [Aarhus University] on membrane lipids and sodium pump activity.”

Professor Else retired in 2020 but remains an active volunteer with the Faculty of Science, Medicine and Health, helping tutor and mentor students and oversee lab experiments.

So much has changed since those early days at UOW, and Professor Else can’t quite believe the extent to which the University has evolved during his five-decade association. He is incredibly proud of how much he has achieved and feels grateful to be named an Emeritus Professor.

“I would like to thank my colleagues for supporting this much appreciated honour,” he said. “It means a lot.”