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Professor Mary O'Kane awarded honorary doctorate

7 November 2018
Honouring a career dedicated to science and engineering
The University of Sydney has awarded an honorary doctorate in Science to Professor Mary O'Kane AC for her lifelong contributions to science, engineering, national policy and higher education.
Chancellor Belinda Hutchinson AM, Professor Mary O'Kane AC, Science Dean Professor Iain Young and Vice-Chancellor Dr Michael Spence AC

Chancellor Belinda Hutchinson AM, Professor Mary O'Kane AC, Science Dean Professor Iain Young and Vice-Chancellor Dr Michael Spence AC

“For over four decades, Professor Mary O’Kane has played a crucial role in the fields of science and engineering in both Australia and internationally. Her mark on the sector is without many parallels, not only has her knowledge and expertise helped facilitate national policy and higher education, she has also been an inspirational mentor and role model, particularly for women in science,” said University of Sydney Chancellor, Belinda Hutchinson AM.

Honorary degrees are awarded to individuals who have made an outstanding contribution to the wider community or who have achieved exceptional academic or creative excellence. Professor Mary O’Kane has been admitted to the degree of Doctor of Science (honoris causa).

Mary O’Kane has been a pioneer in the field of automatic speech recognition, having established the first database of spoken Australian English and special purpose programming languages.

Professor Mary O’Kane has played a crucial role in the fields of science and engineering in both Australia and internationally.
University of Sydney Chancellor, Belinda Hutchinson AM

Over her forty-year career, Professor O’Kane has actively advocated for higher education, and was the inaugural chair of the Group of Eight Universities. She invented the term 'early career researcher,' which is now an established part of the research lexicon around the world.

From the early 1990s she was increasingly appointed to government committees, sitting on the Australia Prize Committee. She also chaired the Australian Research Council’s Research Grants Committee, where she introduced a number of reforms including the push for funding grants to be assessed against applicants’ opportunities as well as achievements.

In 2008 Professor O’Kane was appointed to NSW Chief Scientist & Engineer, advising government on policy matters relating to research, science, engineering and research. She took up a new position as Chair of the Independent Planning Commission of NSW early in 2018. 

Professor O'Kane continues to chair and serve on many boards and committees including the Cooperative Research Centre for Space Environment Management, the Digital Health Cooperative Research Centre, and the University of Tasmania’s Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies. Formerly she was a member of the board of the CSIRO, the Cooperative Research Centres Committee, the Tax Concession Committee, the NSW Innovation and Productivity Council and the board of FH Faulding & Co Ltd. 

She has also been active in energy matters and chaired the Australian Centre for Renewable Energy Board throughout its existence. She is a Fellow and former Vice-President of the Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering and an Honorary Fellow of Engineers Australia. In late 2018 she will also assume the position of Chair of the Tasmanian Energy retailer, Aurora Energy.

Professor O’Kane has been celebrated throughout her distinguished career. She has won both the Peter Nicol Russell Memorial Medal, Australia’s most distinguished engineering prize, as well as the Pearcy Medal, Australia’s most distinguished prize for ICT. In 2017, she was awarded the Erna Hamburger Prize, which is awarded to distinguished female scientists who have transformed their field.

In 2016, she was made a Companion of the Order of Australia for her service to science, engineering, energy policy and technology research, and for her contributions to national policy development and governance.

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