Prof Robinson was born in Northern Ireland, graduated from Queen’s University, Belfast in 1967 and, after establishing a research career at the University of Oxford, was appointed Professor of Reproductive Medicine at the University of Newcastle in 1980. He was then appointed Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Adelaide in 1986 following the retirement of Prof Lloyd Cox and served as Head of Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology until 2006.
During this time Prof Robinson was integral in developing and promoting the University of Adelaide’s outstanding reputation for excellence in research in obstetrics, gynaecology, and reproductive medicine and biology.
Prof Robinson’s research examines the control of fetal and placental growth and development, with his focus on the effects of placental restriction, insulin-like growth factors and nutrition on fetal growth. He is also interested in how events before birth may predispose the individual to common adult diseases such as high blood pressure.
In addition, he has conducted clinical studies including trials relating to mild gestational diabetes, induction of labour, and repeat dose corticosteroids before anticipated preterm. The outcomes of some of these studies have already been incorporated into national and international clinical guidelines, and have improved clinical practice and consequently health outcomes.
Read Professor Robinson’s acceptance speech below:
“Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor and President, Dean and distinguished guests.
First, I thank you for the honour that the University has bestowed upon me.
I wish I had been there to congratulate the new graduates at the beginning of the month.
I came to Adelaide in 1986. Although I did not know it at that time, my first links with the University go back much further to 1963 when I was an Honours student in Anatomy in Belfast. The Professor of Anatomy, Jack Pritchard, came from Adelaide to Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. He had a good academic record, but to gain a Rhodes Scholarship, he knew he lacked that little bit extra that might make the selection committee appoint him. He looked around to find a sport that would suit him. At the time, Adelaide did not have a rugby club, and being a big sturdy young bloke, he decided to form one; appointed himself captain, arranged a match with University of Melbourne; awarded himself colours and added it to his curriculum vitae – sufficient extra according to his biographer to gain a Rhodes Scholarship!
Jack Pritchard gave all the Honours students very good advice: it is crucial to be on top of the literature in your subject. He recommended that we should read at least three research papers every day for the rest of our lives to ensure that we developed a sound knowledge of our chosen area. With the huge expansion of the literature since the 1960s, perhaps that number should be trebled today. I have to admit that there have been days when I did not manage to keep my reading up to Pritchard’s recommendation.
My working life as a new medical graduate in Belfast was very different from conditions that apply today. Interns were not allowed to be married if they wanted an appointment in the main teaching hospital, so I had to complete that year before Elspeth and I could marry. I would not be here today without all her support. In the first year after graduation, I lived in the hospital in quarters that had previously been condemned when student nurses lived there. There were a gym, tennis and squash courts on site to help keep us fit, although running up and down long corridors was enough for many of my colleagues. There was also a barbers shop so that we did not have to leave the hospital.
When I was a resident and Junior Tutor in Obstetrics and Gynaecology in Belfast, my professor, Jack Pinkerton showed me an advertisement for a Fellowship in the Nuffield Institute for Medical Research in Oxford and suggested that I should apply. I pointed out that I needed to complete further training that would take about five years before I would meet the requirements for application. He advised me to ignore that little detail – I applied and was interviewed in a magnificent old building in the centre of Oxford – the Radcliffe Observatory. At my interview, it was pointed out to me that I had been born in the same town as one of the founders of fetal physiology, Sir Joseph Barcroft, and I was asked a series of questions about his research. After the interview, I received a letter indicating that I had been unsuccessful. My very junior status was also noted, but I was encouraged to apply the next year when I was awarded a Nuffield Fellowship without a second interview.
It may come as a surprise now, but conditions of the Fellowship that took me to Oxford expressly excluded enrolling for a higher degree. In Oxford, I rapidly learned to listen and not to express opinions unless I could provide sound evidence to back up my views. I spent nine years in Oxford and during part of that time I worked for an Australian, Geoffrey Thorburn who encouraged me to consider Australia. I also met several members of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology in Adelaide; two shared my office while they were on sabbatical. My predecessor, Lloyd Cox also visited. He firmly believed that our subject would progress best through strong multidisciplinary links. To achieve this he appointed a scientist as a lecturer; the second holder, Bob Seamark built an excellent research team and the base for the growth and success of Obstetrics and Gynaecology
In my first appointment in Australia, I was attracted to the new medical school in Newcastle and to continue my research I submitted a proposal to NHMRC. Just a month after my arrival in Australia I had to defend my proposal. Ross Kalucy from Flinders chaired the NHMRC project grants committee and Bob Seamark interviewed me. To my surprise he suggested I should ask for more money – an idea rapidly rejected by the chairman. My grant was successful and enabled me to appoint a scientist to work with me in Newcastle. I was extremely fortunate to be able to attract a young graduate student, Julie Owens to move from Brisbane to Newcastle and we have worked together since then. I shouldn’t say how many years. Julie essentially succeeded me when I stepped down as Head of Obstetrics and Gynaecology on her way to a higher plane, her current role as Pro Vice Chancellor. My first elective student in Australia, Chris Wilkinson who is here today published a paper from that brief elective in Newcastle.
Bob Seamark and Arnold Gillespie encouraged me to move to Adelaide. Arnold made sure that I put in an application. Bob and I were able to bring Obstetrics and Gynaecology onto the University campus strengthening our links with other groups in the University. However, I benefitted most since I was able to talk to Bob and his staff about many issues in medicine and science on a daily basis. I also received very wise counsel from my predecessor, Lloyd Cox when I was settling into Adelaide. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Bob and Lloyd.
One of the privileges of being professor and head of department is the great influence that I was able to have on selection of new staff in the discipline. First, Colin Matthews became the second professor. Soon afterwards, Rob Norman was appointed as a senior lecturer and followed by Caroline Crowther, Bill Hague and many others, especially in research positions. Another of the great privileges of being a professor is watching young people grow into academia. I shall mention just two of our successors, Sarah Robertson, a scientist who came to the department soon after I arrived in Adelaide. Bob Seamark and I encouraged her to complete an Honours degree and her doctorate while she rapidly gained an international reputation for the excellence of her science. I am delighted that she has been elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Sciences. My successor also deserves special mention. She came to Obstetrics and Gynaecology as a student, published a paper from that elective. Later when she was a registrar, we discussed potential PhD projects while we were performing a caesarean section. I was delighted when she was appointed to the Chair in Obstetrics and Gynaecology thus convincing me that the discipline will remain in good hands for the future.
A few years ago, the University honoured me through the naming of the Robinson Research Institute – it has been a flagship for the University and I look forward to watching its continued success.
I would like to finish by thanking the Chancellor and the University for bestowing this great honour on me – I owe it to many in Obstetrics and Gynaecology who helped and supported me in numerous ways and I thank all of them too.”