Fifteen to One | Professor Gordon Love

“Computing is such a rapidly changing subject, and I’m really looking forward to helping our school grow and evolve.”

Fifteen to One | Professor Gordon Love. September 2023

In our latest Fifteen to One Q&A feature, Professor Gordon Love talks about his role as the new Head of the School of Computing, what’s impressed him most since arriving at Leeds and how he aims to expand collaboration across the University and beyond.

Discover what sparked his interest in industrial heritage, why he dreams of a career as a rock star and how he came to take to the mic in front of Chairman Mao’s optometrist!

Can you describe your role in 100 words?

I’m the Head of the School of Computing. Being a Head of School is a fascinating position, as you’re the interface in both directions between the very senior levels of the University and the ‘coalface’ of teaching and research. I enjoy the role as you get involved in a huge amount – from top-level strategy and externally representing the University to sorting out people’s problems (and maybe creating some!), and occasionally doing some teaching and research.

How have your first few months been since joining the University?

I joined Leeds little more than two months ago after being Head of the Department of Computer Science at Durham University for five years. I was lucky to join at a ‘quiet’ time of year (the quotes around quiet are doing a lot of work here!) but I’ve really enjoyed it so far. It’s been a steep learning curve but, honestly, everyone has been so welcoming.

What’s really impressed you about Leeds?

I can really feel the scale of Leeds. It’s a huge institution and I like the variety of things going on here. I like the fact it’s really invested in some large cross-University projects, such as Nexus, HELIX (our new innovative digital learning space) and Leeds Institute for Data Analytics (LIDA). From a computing viewpoint, the University is in such a great city with a lot going on from a tech perspective. I like the fact there’s still a good amount of autonomy at the school level at Leeds. It’s still quite a devolved University.

What question have you most frequently been asked in your new role?

That’s easy to answer: “Please can you approve this.” Often ‘this’ is a ridiculously small thing and I’m looking forward to devolving more approvals in the future! Beyond that, I like the fact all the questions I get asked are so different.

What are you most looking forward to working on?

Computing is such a rapidly changing subject, and I’m really looking forward to helping our school grow and evolve. I’d like to make more links across the University and the wider city region. Fortunately, I’m in a school were lots of people do want to partner with us. I haven’t yet got involved in any alumni work but I’m particularly looking forward to that.

Is there something, or someone, that has inspired you in your career?

I loved learning about the Great Scientific figures of the 20th Century – particularly in Physics, which was my first subject. Closer to home, my family is from Leeds, and as a child my grandfather took me around many of the industrial parts of the city in the late 70s and early 80s (he worked at Kirkstall Forge), which sparked my interest in industrial heritage.

We all have that professional or personal achievement we’re incredibly proud of – can you tell us yours?

I’m lucky enough to have lots. I love tracking the work of former students who’ve gone on to be academics themselves. I love the fact my research has been so varied (I’ve been returned to three different REF – Research Excellence Framework – panels). I have a well-known paper on the pupil shapes of animal eyes that went viral when it was published – that was fun. In my last job, I launched and built up a new department, so it’s been nice to leave a legacy. Maybe most of all I love it when occasionally you meet former undergraduate students you taught (but don’t necessarily remember) who say you inspired them in some way.

What do you wish you’d known at the start of your career that you know now?

That’s a tough one. I hope I’ve learned to be empathetic. I think it’s a really important and sometimes undervalued trait – especially in leadership. If you can understand what a problem looks like from someone else’s perspective, then it’s enormously helpful in coming to a solution.

If you didn’t work in HE, what would have been your chosen career?

I’ve actually always wanted to be an academic since the age of about 15. I don’t know how the idea came to me as I’m not from a family who’d been to University, but my career path was set at a relatively early age. What else would I like to do? If I say TV presenter or rock star, will you laugh too much? We can all dream!

What are your campus highlights so far?

Of course I’m lucky to sit in the wonderful new Bragg Building. My office faces the central atrium. A career goal is to see if I can take control of the coloured lights in there!

Have you found a favourite location on campus?

I love the brutalist concrete buildings around the EC Stoner and Roger Stevens Buildings. Universities are normally a hotchpotch of architecture, but in that central area there’s a remarkable uniformity of concrete – and I’m a big fan. Like many others who’ve written in this column, St George’s Field is a hidden gem. For me, it’s the shortcut to see my boss – the Executive Dean! Finally, I was given a wonderful tour of the libraries by Masud Khokar, University Librarian and Keeper of the Brotherton Collection – they’re amazing. 

What’s still on your ‘to do’ list to visit?

Given my earlier comment about enjoying industrial heritage, I was amazed and pleased to find out that Leeds has its own power plant – the Generating Station Complex. I don’t have any links there but if anyone reading this would like to give me a tour, I’d be very grateful!

What do you do to relax away from University life?

I love visiting places in the world – whether it’s far-off countries or hidden away corners closer to home. I really enjoy music and I’m happy to be in Leeds where there are lots of opportunities for live shows. I recently got my vinyl collection operational again and was inspired to buy a copy of The Who’s Live at Leeds. 

Where’s your favourite travel destination and why?

That’s another tough one. My enthusiasm for visiting places normally means the most recent one I visited is my favourite. That aside, I would probably have to say Southern Utah in the USA. There are so many national parks with amazing landscapes, which are unique and actually quite close to each other. Equally, I love Yorkshire as a county. The landscape is so varied – the Dales, the Moors, the Wolds, the Coast and then the cities. It’s almost like a microcosm of the UK in one county!

What’s your random claim to fame?

The most random thing I can think of is singing in front of Chairman Mao’s optometrist! I was attending a conference in Beijing related to optical imaging in the eye (hence their attendance). There was karaoke during the conference dinner and I sang Hey Jude very badly!

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