School of Mathematics and Statistics Alumni


BSc 1966; MSc 1968

Do I have any news to share? Well, my professional career has been fairly simple:

1. I did an honours degree BSc (Hons) at Melbourne from 1962 to 1965. Then in 1966 and the first half of 1967 I did an MSc under the joint supervision of Dr Bruce Craven and Dr CJF Upton, with a thesis ‘On some aspects of functional analysis’.

2. Then until 1971 I was at Flinders University where I worked as a tutor and completed a PhD under the supervision of Professor Brian Abrahamson with a thesis entitled ‘Operator Thoery on Quaternionic Hilbert Spaces’.

3. This was followed by two appointments as a lecturer in Mathematics at African universities, firstly at Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Nigeria during the (northern) 1971/72 academic year, and then until early 1976 at the Univeristy of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa.

4. In 1976 I left academic and mathematical work because personal reasons made it desirable to return to Australia. From 1976 to January 2011 I held a number of positions in the Victorian Health Department. This was a complete career change. I worked initially on the development and evaluation of the Early Childhood Development Program and on health workforce issues. Then from 1982 to 1989 I was manager of the Health Statistics Unit, and finally at the time of my retirement I was a senior information policy advisor.

While it would be difficult and probably unhelpful to attempt a full description of nearly 35 years as a public servant with the Health Department, two of the long-running themes of my work may shed some light on the sort of contribution a mathematician can make in this type of environment.

Firstly, for a number of years I was able to provide briefings and advice to support the Department's involvement, and in some cases leadership, in national health statistics forums such as the National Health Information Standards and Statistics Committee. This intergovernmental committee and its predecessors are basically about developing high quality statistical information about the health status of Australians and health services in Australia, and in particular maintaining and improving the comparability of the statistical information collected by the various Commonwealth, State and Territory health authorities and agencies such as the Australian Institute of Health & Welfare and the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Secondly, for many years I had the very satisfying task of acting as a data custodian for a number of major health statistical collections maintained by the Victorian Health Department, which involved providing guidance to epidemiologists and other health researchers in government and universities on how to make the best use of hospital-based statistical information while protecting the privacy of individual patients.

During this period I haven't had much contact with people at Melbourne Maths Department but have fond memories of some of my contemporaries (including Frank Barrington who looks quite recognisable in some of the latest photos). I also have particularly fond memories of the late Professor ER Love, who lived not far from my home and who always had time for a chat when I met him.

Best wishes, Dr Neil Powers

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