Connected Conversations | Corinna Van Den Heuvel

Associate Professor Corinna Van Den Heuvel has been a fixture at the University since she studied here 30 years ago. The academic, teaching and research powerhouse is also Interim Head of the Adelaide Medical School. We chatted to Corinna about her incredible staff, her desire to instil lifelong learning in her students and the energy on campus that she dearly misses in our latest edition of Connected Conversations.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

I’m Corinna and I started at the Uni as an undergraduate student in 1990, then onto Honours and a PhD before entering the world of academia in 1999. I have been studying and working here at the University of Adelaide for just over 30 years…I’ve never really left the place actually! I knew I wanted to be an academic when I was a volunteer tutor during my PhD and I simply fell in love with teaching, so when a job opportunity presented itself at the end of my PhD for a short term academic contract I jumped at the chance! The Uni feels like home to me and I feel very connected to it, its staff and of course the students.

My research focus initially started in neurotrauma and has now extended into forensic sciences. I have been very fortunate to have collaborated with numerous fabulous researchers and to have supervised many Honours and PhD students over that time. I have coordinated pathology and neuroscience courses within the Bachelor of Health and Medical Sciences program and since 2016. I have been the program coordinator of this program which is a little funny seeing as I was one of the first graduates of the earlier version of the program in 1993. In addition to this role, I am also the Interim Head of the Adelaide Medical School, which can be challenging as this is the biggest school in the entire University. I am enjoying the challenge though and I have loved getting to know more staff and students, while playing a role in key decisions, which will ultimately impact the student experience.

My family and I live in beautiful Strathalbyn which is about an hour away from the Uni. I share our 2.5 acre property with my husband Randall, three children (aged 11, 15 and 17), two dogs, 10 chickens, four fish and two budgies. Oh, and a resident wild bearded dragon! What really drives me to work each day is my love of teaching and instilling enthusiasm of learning into every student that I interact with. I love engaging with students by providing a positive and stimulating environment to fire their desire to learn to the best of their ability. I am also so privileged to work alongside some of the most passionate, capable educators and researchers who I am lucky enough to call my friends.

The Return to Campus Roadmap is now in place. What are you most looking forward to about being back on campus?

I have been trying to balance working from home and going onto campus and one thing that has really struck me on the days that I am on campus is how much I miss the energy of the students. The silence in the buildings is so strange and believe it or not but I even miss the queues in the Hub to order food! I also miss my fabulous colleagues and the ad-hoc corridor chats and the occasional shared lunches. I can’t wait for our campus to be buzzing again.

What aspects of teaching online do you enjoy the most? And… what are the parts that you do not like so much?

I am more of a traditionalist who prefers face-to-face rather than online teaching. However, I can see that there are some online teaching modes which do enable considerable flexibility and enable us to be very creative with what and how we deliver it. I haven’t had to do very much online teaching this year mainly because of my new role as Interim Head of the Adelaide Medical School. However, I have watched in amazement as my colleagues have created new engaging and interactive online content in such tight turnaround times.

How do you set boundaries when working at home between your work life and your home life?

I feel that I am achieving a great deal working from home (and saving two hours of travel time too which is a bonus). I am a person that can’t sit still so sitting in front of my computer on Zoom meetings for hours on end is not something that I am enjoying. I am fortunate that we have a couple of acres of land so what I try and do is swap at least one meeting a day to a phone meeting and then walk laps of our property.

Were there any outside of work challenges that impacted you over the past few months?

Trying to work from home when schools were closed temporarily and during the school holidays was extremely tricky. I must admit I was very happy when school returned… there was too much noise and distraction under one roof to be very productive.

Is there anything from the past few months you would like to see implemented on a permanent basis?

The increased use of technology such as Zoom and other online teaching platforms will hopefully be able to create more long term, flexible learning, teaching and working environments for students and staff. 

What is the one thing you are most looking forward to doing or seeing when you are back on campus?

I am going to say two things, if that’s okay? I am very much looking forward to teaching my students face-to-face and to sharing lunch under the Frome Street plane trees with my workmates.

All things considered; what good things have you discovered or learned during this time?

I have seen such amazing collaboration between my colleagues and new connections forming that I doubt would have formed if we weren’t in this situation. Groups of people coming together for the common good during a very challenging time has been so heart-warming. As a manager, I am so proud of the staff within my school and faculty and it just reminds me how lucky I am to work with these amazing individuals.

Name three things you won’t miss about this current moment in time.

Using hand sanitiser constantly.

Not being able to hug! I am a hugger, so this is very much out of my comfort zone (elbow touches just don’t cut it!)

Trying to buy toilet paper.

And the three things you won’t forget…

I won’t forget the sadness I felt standing at the podium of a large empty lecture theatre and trying to record a lecture without the energy of my students.

I won’t forget finding happiness in the simplest of pleasures like more home cooked meals and having my family altogether under the same roof for much longer periods of time than normal.

Most importantly, I won’t forget the way people around the world have connected and supported each other during this challenging time. The videos of people in Italy singing together on their individual balconies whilst in lockdown will stay with me forever.

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