Professing a lifelong love of learning

15 December 2016

University of Canterbury Statistics Professor Jennifer Brown is graduating with her fourth tertiary qualification this month.

Professing a lifelong love of learning

University of Canterbury's Head of the School of Mathematics and Statistics, Prof Jennifer Brown (wearing her academic gown and bonnet) will receive a Postgraduate Certificate in Strategic Leadership in the Graduation ceremony for the Colleges of Law & Commerce and Science tomorrow.

“Education is not preparation for life. It should be life itself.”

So said philosopher John Dewey, but embodying this maxim is University of Canterbury Statistics Professor Jennifer Brown, who is graduating tomorrow (16 December) with her fourth tertiary qualification.

University of Canterbury’s Head of the School of Mathematics and Statistics, Prof Brown will receive a Postgraduate Certificate in Strategic Leadership in the Graduation ceremony for the Colleges of Law & Commerce and Science tomorrow. With qualifications from three different universities already to her credit, Prof Brown is proof positive that UC creates lifelong learners. 

“Learning is not something that is done at school and then stops. It’s an attitude to life,” she says.

Her other tertiary qualifications are: Bachelor of Forestry Science (Hons), also from UC, Postgraduate Diploma in Science in Statistics from Massey University and a PhD in Statistics from Otago University.

She tells us about her love of learning:

You’re already in the top-most echelons of the most educated people in New Zealand (in fact in the world). What made you want to continue to expand your education even further?

Working at UC is being in the heart of an organisation dedicated to learning, so it is natural for me to carry on. But more personally, I love learning – there is always more to learn about in any subject. I am constantly expanding my knowledge about statistics (the field I work in) as new ideas arise. With this qualification I was learning more about management and leadership: not only was it really interesting for me, it is was very relevant to my current role as the Head of the School.

So, Professor, you’re qualified in forestry, maths and statistics, and now business – what keeps you learning?

I can’t imagine the day I would ever say, “OK, I’m done, I know everything”, I would lose my motivation. It is exciting to know that there is so much knowledge around, and being able to get even a glimpse of some of it feels like a privilege to me.

What was it about the Postgraduate Certificate in Strategic Leadership that attracted you?

I think the Executive Development Programmes team, who run the programme, do an excellent job in catering for people like me, working full-time and wanting to explore some of the theories and ideas around leadership. It is run in a way that is very accessible with block courses and reasonable assessment. The teachers were great – they had a very demanding group of students all with very high expectations – we were super busy in our professional lives – and they did really well.

How did you manage the academic study and professorial workload plus a full family life?

How did my family manage? You should compare their answer with mine! You have to be very organised and dedicated to study and work full-time. Actually, it is not the first time I have done this, I was working full-time when I studied for my first statistics qualification and the key word for both degrees is tenacity. You have to stick with it and as time constraints hit harder, focus on the end goal: completion. And in my case, now having done two qualifications while working full-time, my goals seems to be “completion until I start studying again”.  I am a very organised person and structured my weeks to have time for family, work and study.

You said: UC creates "lifelong learners". Tell me about that.

To me a lifelong learner is someone who is open to new ideas, beliefs, and ways of doing things. I am always thinking: how does that work, why did that happen, what’s going to happen next? Learning is not something that is done at school and then stops. It’s an attitude to life. Here’s a recent example, when I heard John Key had resigned my first thought was, “wow, I wonder what was the thinking he went through to come to that decision, and what brought about the clarity to decide to resign today.” I want to learn from what he went through – I can’t wait for the book to come out.

Has your family also caught the learning bug from you?

As a mother of two teenage children, I’d like to think so! They both work really hard at school, they both have curious minds and interested in the world around them. What more could I want?

What are your tips for staying curious about the world and always seeking knowledge?

My tips are:

i)                    Do what really interests you, find your passion and follow it. Imagine a world when you got up each day and went off to a job you didn’t like. Plan to ensure that does not happen.

ii)                   Be open to chance, keep doors open, and be kind. Almost all the events that have led me to being where I am now where just chance encounters by being in the right place at the right time. But to be in the right place at the right time you have to be open to new opportunities, explore new things, put yourself out there, and be kind to yourself and others.

For further information please contact:
Margaret Agnew, Senior External Relations Advisor, University of Canterbury
Phone: +64 3 369 3631 | Mobile: +64 275 030 168 |
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