Alumni Stories

From Music Tutor to University Leader

Professor Bebbington conducting the Conservatorium Choir at the University of Adelaide while still as Vice Chancellor

By Warren Bebbington, 1976 Fulbright Postgraduate Scholar

Becoming a Tutor in music at the University of Melbourne in 1974, when I had just graduated with my bachelor’s degree, soon filled me with more questions than I had answers for. In those days, music training in Australian conservatories mostly followed dated British models, and opportunities to do specialist postgraduate study were limited. I soon hungered for advanced study abroad. Exploring the course options in Europe and the USA, I noticed that many of the texts I had used in my undergraduate course were written by musicologists teaching in New York; so having successfully obtained a Fulbright award, and with a travelling scholarship from Australia, I set out for “The Big Apple,” where I enrolled for a PhD in Musicology.

The USA was then—and will remain for many years to come—the world’s leading centre for first-class university research and graduate study, attracting front-rank researchers and graduate students from across the globe. During the three years I lived there, I took graduate classes at Columbia University, Queens College and the City University of New York Graduate School, attending lectures by many distinguished figures, ranging from composer John Cage to anthropologist Margaret Mead and playwright Eugene Ionesco. I studied specialisations scarcely taught in Australia then—Schenkerian Analysis, Twelve-tone Theory, Musical Paleography and Iconography, Aesthetics and Music Criticism—as well as taking a practical course in Orchestral and Choral Conducting of a kind unknown in Australia. I became Research Assistant to the revered authority on early music Professor Gustave Reese, working on revising his books. Academically, it was everything I had hoped for; and as well, New York City was for a musician an education in itself: aside from its museums and galleries, I soaked up world-class live music at the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic, I heard the greatest performers of the day in concert, and saw many famous artists who had never toured Down Under but appeared regularly in New York. All in all, it was a transformational experience.

After three years I felt bristling with the benefits of an American graduate education, and ready for academic employment again. As my scholarships expired and my money started to run out, I was offered a very junior position in New York’s leading music school. But because of the Fulbright visa requirement that, on completion of my study program, I returned to my own country for two years, I had to decline the New York post. At first I chafed at this; but later I came to understand the importance of William Fulbright’s vision of spreading first-rate American learning and research skills to other countries. For returning to Australia did enable me to make a prominent contribution to the academic life of my country: in 1979 I became a lecturer at the ANU School of Music, a few years later I was proud to be invited back to the University of Melbourne as Dean of the Conservatorium—where my studies had begun years before—and later still I was privileged to become Vice Chancellor at the University of Adelaide. My experience in the US continued to inform my judgement and perspective of educational matters throughout my tenure in those positions.

The Fulbright played a pivotal role in my education. My father had been a dairy farmer, and later a storeman and packer; he raised his family with limited means, and I was the first in the family to go to university. My parents’ ambitions for me had been modest, and unquestionably, I could not have studied in the US without the Fulbright award, nor had such a rapid path to positions of academic leadership later on. Through the Fulbright Host Family scheme I also made lifelong friends with an American family. I am immensely proud of being a Fulbright alumnus, and continue to recommend the scheme to anyone with an interest graduate study in the US.

Share your Fulbright story too! Find out how by writing to: alumni@fulbright.org.au

Next Door to Sputnik; Alongside Armstrong in Spirit!

Elisa Evett as Yelena and Paul Grimwood as Astrov in Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” – May, 1966

By Paul Grimwood, 1965 Fulbright Postgraduate Scholar

Sputnik was launched in the early sixties. I went to Cornell University in 1965, under the banner of Fulbright, to do research into spacecraft re-entry problems. Part of our context was the moon race. For instance, I came from home to my lab to watch Armstrong’s moon landing.

Mine was just one of the contributions of many to the grand space efforts.

I was a Fulbright Scholar from 1965 until 1970. A long time ago!

It is true that the money from the scholarship, along with teaching and research assistantships from Cornell University, made it possible for me to complete my doctorate at Cornell, and be a post-doctoral fellow for a year. I value that.

At the same time I value the principles that William Fulbright espoused in establishing the scholarships. In particular, I value the notion that the scholarships foster learning  and educational experiences that lead on to pursuits in the broader career of the Fulbright Scholar. There was no restriction on the Scholar’s journey. There was simply encouragement that the Scholar contribute to his or her community, and perhaps that could be in the Scholar’s homeland.

I emphasise that the Fulbright Foundation was remarkably unrestrictive in the administration of the scholarships, and that  was appreciated. It is also true that one requirement placed on me in travelling to Cornell from Australia was that I travelled by train from the point of entry to the US to Cornell, close to the eastern seaboard. At the time I railed against the requirement. I wanted to reach Cornell and to get on with things there. It took me years to recognise how valuable it was to be introduced to the US community this way. I later chose with my wife to travel across the US by car. Each experience built on the other. In quiet times of reflection much later in my career, I wondered how much that trip influenced my appointment as chief executive of the Australian Railway Research and Development Organisation, and as Director General of Transport in N.S.W. I doffed my hat to William Fulbright.

The period I spent in the US as a Fulbrighter, 1965 – 1970, was a memorable time for many reasons. Some related to my personal life. Some related to my academic life. Some related to the happenings in the US and, more broadly, the world.

1968 was a tumultuous year!  Bobby Kennedy was assassinated. Martin Luther King was assassinated—on my birthday and two days before the light of my life and I were married. About that year Afro-American students, only weeks after the disturbances at Kent State, rebelled on campus at Cornell.  Cornell, wisely in my view, chose to seek a new way forward.  They instituted a Constituent  Assembly.  In my view it was designed to release the pressure and to find a way forward for all its students. As a delegate to this Assembly—elected by my peers—I became a contributor to Cornell’s future governance. Even at the time I had no doubt that Fulbright values influenced me.

The Vietnam war was a constant in our lives. There are many dimensions, even for me. One personal one lives on. I would come down from my dorm to get breakfast at a nearby restaurant. “Two eggs over easy, toast and coffee” was my standard order. I was a regular. So, too, was Daniel Berrigan, a Jesuit priest. As a protest, with his brother, also a Jesuit, and their colleagues, he poured blood over the files of conscripts to the Vietnam War. They were nailed for it. Our conversations: “Please pass the salt, Dan”.

It was not simply a time of momentous events. Personal actualisation and fulfilment had their places. For instance, I continued developing as an actor. I felt good about being able to work with the people brought in to the summer-stock activities. It was fun to be a meat baron in one of Brecht’s plays! Sure.

And I came to have more insight into Fulbright. I give to him insight that acting, being able to bring a character to life, is immensely valuable in establishing rapport  in negotiation in any field.

I confess to a peccadello! I had neglected to alert my Professor that I was continuing with my acting. Perhaps you can appreciate my feelings when, as Dr Astrov in Chekov’s Uncle Vanya, the curtain opened and I saw from the stage my Professor and his wife. He later suggested that I had a choice to make: research or the theatre. I chose both.

My time at Cornell was, in my view, remarkably developmental for me. I do recognise that, to an impartial observer, it may appear to be remarkably mundane. Even now I smile. I think Fulbright would have been satisfied to have many whose experiences were/are as remarkably mundane as mine, thanks to him!

Share your Fulbright story too! Find out how by writing to: alumni@fulbright.org.au

A professional, personal, and family experience like no other

By Tim Carey, 2017 Fulbright Northern Territory Scholar

Being awarded a Fulbright Senior Scholarship enabled me to spend four months at the Center for Behavioral Health Innovation (BHI), Department of Clinical Psychology, Antioch University New England. The University is a very small postgraduate university of approximately 1000 students. The Department of Clinical Psychology is one of five departments at the University and offers a Doctorate of Clinical Psychology. The University has a very strong and explicit social justice focus with many messages on noticeboards about the importance of equality, acceptance, and understanding.

It was a privilege to spend time at BHI learning about the work that they do. They are a small center led by two of the faculty members of the Department of Clinical Psychology and six other staff. They partner with organisations in rural and underserved communities helping these organisations to establish systems of ongoing monitoring and feedback in order to promote the effectiveness of the services they deliver. During my time there BHI staff were working with schools, health centres, and philanthropic organisations on various projects. The evaluation context in the US is quite different from Australia with the Federal Government in the US mandating that a proportion of funding (commonly 20%) for services and programs be allocated to the evaluation of those interventions. Funding for BHI largely comes from this requirement.

While working at BHI we developed a project to investigate the factors that might be important in establishing and sustaining ongoing monitoring and feedback within an organisation. I interviewed 15 people from organisations with whom BHI had partnered at some time over approximately an eight year period. The people I interviewed had different roles within the organisations from leaders to service providers but they all spoke emphatically about the value of evaluation. They explained that, through ongoing monitoring and evaluation, they could make sure that the help that was being delivered really was experienced as help by the service recipients. They also emphasised the importance of having buy-in from the leadership of the organisation and of embedding systems within daily routines so that “the right thing to do is the easy thing to do”. Unanimously, interview participants spoke of the importance of the data they collected in terms of being able to engage with communities, communicate with funders, and “tell stories that touch people’s hearts as well as their heads”.

As a complementary aspect to my project I was fortunate to be able to speak with Dr Richard McKeon, who is Chief of the Suicide Prevention Branch of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Like the people I interviewed, Dr McKeon emphasised the importance of collecting data and basing program decisions upon the data that are collected. Dr McKeon argued strongly that having data to highlight an issue can become an important way of persuading people that something needs to be done and to answer basic questions.

The work at BHI and the learnings from the project I conducted have important policy and practice implications for service delivery in remote health settings of Australia.

In addition to the work at BHI I had the opportunity to participate in the Oz to Oz program at Kansas State University. I was hosted by their Master of Public Health program and got to meet senior university personnel and learn about some aspects of their approach to public health. Their public health program is interesting because it is not delivered within a medical program or department. While I was at Kansas State University I delivered a colloquium titled “Defining Health: Issues and solutions”. I provided a related colloquium back at Antioch University titled “Health as Control: An organising principle for the biopsychosocial model”. These speaking engagements enabled me to discuss ideas from my recently published book “Patient-Perspective Care: A new paradigm for health systems and services”. A further invitation to speak to residents and students of the Family Medicine Residency at the Eastern Maine Medical Center and to staff of Acadia Hospital in Bangor, ME allowed me to explore these ideas in greater detail with a talk titled “Improving Health in Rural and Remote Contexts with Patient-Perspective Care”. Further teaching opportunities arose with three classes provided in the Brief Psychotherapies course of the Doctor Clinical Psychology program at Antioch.

I was fortunate to have my family accompany me to Keene, NH for the duration of the Fulbright Scholarship. I think we benefitted just as much personally as I did professionally from the time we spent involved in the community life of Keene. It was wonderful to experience occasions such as Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas in the US with new-found friends and their families. Among other things, we picked blueberries and apples, carved pumpkins, turkey trotted at our son’s elementary school, trick-or-treated around the neighbourhood, and did some snow tubing. We also discovered that the saying “I’ll be there with bells on” originated in New England and we had many interesting discussions about New Hampshire’s state motto: Live free or die.

It’s an enormous privilege to become a Fulbright Scholar and tremendously humbling to be a part of the legacy Senator Fulbright started more than half a century ago. There was a real sense as I was undertaking the Fulbright Program that I was “living the dream”. There wasn’t ever a point when I wanted the dream to end. I still don’t. Thankfully, as a Fulbright Alumni, the dream can live on.

Share your Fulbright story too! Find out how by writing to: alumni@fulbright.org.au

Teaching machines to play fair

By Daniel McNamara, 2016 Fulbright Postgraduate Scholar in Computer Science

I had the good fortune to visit the Machine Learning Department at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh as a Fulbright Postgraduate Scholar in 2016-17. During my eight months there I had the opportunity to learn from a technically brilliant group of academics and students who are designing algorithms that will shape the future.

As part of my Fulbright program, I participated in an Enrichment Seminar on Civil Rights in the United States. The seminar was held in Atlanta – birthplace of the Civil Rights movement and to this day an important centre of African-American political activity. More than 100 Fulbrighters from around the world heard from African-American leaders and activists, visited the Civil Rights Museum and Martin Luther King’s tomb, and ran a story-telling workshop at a local school.

Fulbrighters ran a story-telling workshop for Atlanta school students as part of an enrichment seminar on Civil Rights in the United States held in March 2017. Photo credit: Christopher Nagel.

Algorithmic decision-making and fairness

Joining the dots between seemingly disparate subjects – the latest technical developments in machine learning and the political struggle for racial equality in the US – I became interested in the challenge of ensuring that decisions made by machines are fair. This has become an important and rapidly emerging field of research which is attracting attention from scholars in machine learning, law, philosophy and other disciplines. And everyone else – whose lives are increasingly influenced by decisions made by algorithms – are keenly awaiting solutions.

Machine learning systems are now widely used to make all kinds of decisions about people’s lives – such as whether to grant someone a loan, interview someone for a job or provide someone with insurance. There is a risk that these algorithms may be unfair in some way, for example by discriminating against particular groups. Even if not intended by the algorithm designer, discrimination is possible because the reasoning behind the algorithm’s decisions is often difficult for humans to interpret. Furthermore, artefacts of previous discrimination present in the data used to train the algorithm may increase this tendency in the algorithm’s decisions.

An interesting example is the use of recidivism risk scores, which are commonly used in criminal sentencing in the United States. The news organisation ProPublica investigated one widely used system, COMPAS. The investigation showed that black defendants received higher risk scores than white defendants. Furthermore, the risk scores made different kinds of errors for defendants of different races. Black defendants were overrepresented among the false positives: people who were given a high risk score but did not re-offend for the next two years. Conversely, white defendants were overrepresented among the false negatives: people who were given a low risk score but did in fact re-offend.

Baking in fairness

To remove or minimise discrimination effects caused by the use of machine learning systems, fairness may be ‘baked in’ to algorithm design. This approach benefits users of such algorithms, particularly those in social groups that are potentially the subject of discrimination. Moreover, as rapid technological progress drives disruptive social change and in turn resistance to such change, such design decisions will be required to maintain the ‘social license to operate’ of companies using the algorithms.

Incorporating fairness into algorithm design also has a role to play in the effective regulation of algorithms. For example, fairness is considered in the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, which comes into force this year. Paragraph 71 of the preamble states:

In order to ensure fair and transparent processing … the controller should…  secure personal data in a manner … that prevents, inter alia, discriminatory effects on natural persons on the basis of racial or ethnic origin, political opinion, religion or beliefs, trade union membership, genetic or health status or sexual orientation.

The thorny question remains: how do we define fairness? Machine learning researchers are now joining a discussion previously led by philosophers and legal scholars. A seminal study led by the Harvard computer scientist Cynthia Dwork proposed two notions of fairness. Group fairness means making similar decisions for one group compared to another, while individual fairness means making similar decisions for individuals who are similar. The two notions of fairness are potentially in tension: group fairness promotes equal outcomes for each group regardless of the characteristics of the individuals that make up the groups, while individual fairness provides individuals who are similar with equal treatment regardless of their group membership.

Transforming data to achieve fairness

Machine learning algorithms learn from previous examples. One approach to ensuring fairness is to transform the data accessed by the algorithm. The idea is to remove information about group membership (e.g. gender, race) from the data to protect particular groups from discrimination. However, it is typically not as simple as removing a single column in the data, since it may be possible to infer group membership from the other columns. A classic example is the historic practice of ‘redlining’, where decision-making based on loan applicants’ neighbourhood was used as a proxy for racial discrimination.

Machine learning methods such as neural networks may be used to transform data so that membership of a particular protected group can no longer be inferred. For a given data transformation, it is possible to quantify the extent to which it improves group fairness, as well its impact on individual fairness and the usefulness of the transformed data. This kind of guarantee can allow a regulator to approve the transformed data prior to its use in decision-making. Even if the decision-maker attempts to discriminate against a particular protected group, their ability to do so will be limited because the required information has been removed by the data transformation.

Code-ready fairness

Traditionally, fairness has been ‘codified’ in rather general terms in our legal system, and enforcement has relied upon a common understanding of fairness across society. But computers lag behind us on qualitative reasoning abilities. Our new challenge is to provide definitions of fairness that are precise enough to be embedded in computer code.

Share your Fulbright story too! Find out how by writing to: alumni@fulbright.org.au

From Upwey to the USA: A wonderful professional and personal journey

By Matthew Clarke, 2017 Fulbright Professional Scholar in Non-Profit Leadership

Over the last decade, 400 natural disasters have killed more than 100,000 people and affected a further 120 million annually. The international community provides tens of billions of dollars to assist local communities impacted by these humanitarian emergencies. Increasing the professionalization of leaders and managers of humanitarian disasters is critical to ensure the most effective recovery of communities and countries as well as the most efficient use of resources.

I was extremely fortunate to be awarded the 2017/8 Fulbright Professional Scholarship in Non-Profit Leadership in order to better understand how the humanitarian sector works in the US and share the work occurring in Australia at the Centre for Humanitarian Leadership (CHL) – a joint initiative of Deakin university and Save the Children Australia.

My Fulbright program was split over two sites. The first location was Boston, whilst the second location was in Washington DC. Both these locations allowed me the opportunity to work alongside an array of institutions and individuals that have expertise that directly touches upon the work being undertaken at Deakin’s CHL.

Whilst in Boston, I spent time at Tuft University’s Feinstein Centre for International Affairs and the Harvard Humanitarian Academy. Both academic institutions provided opportunities to better understand how the CHL at Deakin might evolve over time. The Feinstein Centre has been in operation for 25 years whilst the Harvard Humanitarian Academy is less then 10 years old. Both institutes undertake research and teaching. Whilst at both institutions, I was able to discuss the need for the CHL to develop its own research agenda and seek advice as to how this might occur. Members from both institutions were very keen to assist and provide expert advice and support. It was also evident from visiting these two centres and observing their teaching that the teaching programs at the CHL are world class. This means that when seeking international collaborations and partnerships in this sphere that we can do so with confidence and knowledge that we are actually adding value. During the second phase, I was in Washington DC, I was hosted by the Humanitarian Business Group within Save the Children US. Given Deakin’s very strong relationship with Save the Children Australia, it made sense to extend this existing institutional relationship by spending time with US colleagues. In addition to meeting a rage of humanitarian workers and leaders at Save US, I was also able to make contacts with colleagues in an array of other aid agencies, including Mercy Corp, World Vision, Relief International as well as USAID and the Centre for Strategic and International Studies. Across these meetings, I better understood the humanitarian sector in the US and possible opportunities for cross-country work.

Over the course of my 25-year work career, I have not had such an experience that equates to this Scholarship. In addition to the length of time away from ‘normal’ duties, which has allowed a certain level of refection and planning, the Fulbright scholarship has brought me into contact with people I would normally not be able to access. This access has increased the information I have been able to receive and heightened the level of conversation I have been able to participate in. I now have a list of contacts in the Humanitarian sector that I can now confidently draw upon in the ongoing development and building of the CHL. During the three months away, I have been able to assess my professional career and the impact I have made and the impact I would like to make in the future. I return to Australia even more sure that the work being undertaken at the CHL is valuable and of world class. I return wanting to extend its influence and its impact within the humanitarian sector.

Separate to these professional experiences, I have been very fortunate to have had my family with me over the course of the Scholarship. This was perhaps the main reason I was able to consider applying for the Scholarship. Had they not been able to accompany me, it would have been impossible to spend this much time away. We had the most wonderful experiences as a family – from Christmas in New York, to a weekend at a snow resort, to visiting historical Civil War battle sites to attending NBA and NFL games to watching our 9-year old daughter step onto an iconic yellow School bus each day on the way to school! Of course, not all experiences where positive: all our children required additional immunization shots to be eligible to attend School. We found our way to the local health clinic and the two younger children received their needles without incident. However, soon after our 17-year old daughter received her needle, she stood up and promptly fainted – She fell face first onto the floor! There was blood everywhere as she had split her nose open. As I cradled her (trying to avoid the blood), our 9 year old daughter then fainted. So, I was holding one child, whilst my wife held another. Very soon we were surrounded by 6 paramedics and some very concerned health clinic nurses!. Seeing inside an ambulance and emergency ward was not high on our ‘to do’ list, but all ended well with the 17 year old fronting up to School the next day – with two black eyes!!

All of these experiences have been remarkable and only possible through the generous support of this Scholarship. It has changed the way I understand my own professional sector, but just as importantly it has enhanced my entire family’s understanding of the US and the relationship between our two nations. It has been career and life changing.

Share your Fulbright story too! Find out how by writing to: alumni@fulbright.org.au