Egan, John


He/ Him/ His

Job Title

Associate Dean


University of Auckland

EDST Degree/s and graduation year/s

PhD, 2002; MA 1999


Adult Learning and Education (ALE)


Tāmaki Makaurau, New Zealand

I am Associate Dean (Learning and Teaching) and Director of the Learning and Teaching Unit in the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences. My Educational Studies experiences have led me to a range of university roles in, Australia Canada, and now New Zealand. My work involves leadership, mentoring, researching and some teaching (face-to-face/blended/online), all whilst quietly disassembling the euroheteropatriarchy. My EdStudies mentors’ unwillingness to impose disciplinary compartmentalization has embedded within me a deep and relentless commitment to embrace the untidiness and ambiguity of human experience. It has been almost 20 years since I graduated, but I remain cheerfully ambivalent about “being” an academic.


John’s Story

Tell us more about your (current or previous) position. Describe your role.

I am Associate Dean Learning and Teaching and Director of the Learning and Teaching Unit in the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences at the University of Auckland. I lead aspects of our teaching and learning, develop strategy and policy, and enable innovation in our courses. While this is largely a service role, I also direct one postgrad elearning course, supervise postgraduate students, and conduct research.

How does a day at work look like?

Varies, but in a usual week I chair committees, conduct consultations, provide guidance on implementing policies, and lead a team of 15 direct and indirect reports.

What gives you meaning and fulfillment in your work?

Working in a university—particularly a professional faculty—means changing the world. We produce nurses, physicians, pharmacists, optometrists, epidemiologists and a broader range of health professionals. We also help current clinicians, health services staff, and others working in the sector to advance and refine their practice. So our impact is obvious.

I became an academic because I wanted to change the world. Doctors, nurses, health officials can all be agents of that change.

What are some of the challenges you have faced?

Aside from COVID19? AND COVID19? COVID19, which has massively disrupted our programmes, in particular our students’ clinical placements. A minor challenge is I’m not a clinician nor am I a biomedical scientist, so I need to be strategic about how I engage in discussions with those colleagues.

What are some accomplishments or highlights that you are most proud of?

Despite COVID19 we have nonetheless still produced two cohorts of each professional programme in 2020 and 2021. How we got there was significantly related to some of the strategic recommendations I made about how we manage processes for policy exemptions.

Tell us a bit about your path leading to your graduate degree. Why did you decide to pursue graduate studies?

I enrolled in the M Ed in Adult Education as I was working in a private post-secondary training institute and wanted to increase my wages. However, my passion has always been social justice, particularly in my queer communities. So when I encountered a lot of talk about social justice, I was…skeptically intrigued. Shortly thereafter I switched to the MA pathway.

My PhD studies were also non-traditional. I was keen to really deep dive into research, but was concerned about debt (having already accrued a lot doing my MA). But I managed to land external funding for three years, so everyone—me, the PhD admissions committee, my supervisors Shauna Butterwick and Jean Barman—was happy for me to enroll.

How has what you learned in your graduate program informed your work?

I realized shortly after graduation that the Educational Studies climate for students was remarkably good compared to other departments at UBC and in comparison to any other university at which I’ve worked. I constantly encounter students who find it unsafe to speak truth to power. Our profs both modelled this and encouraged this: so do I now.

How does your area of work relate to your dissertation?

Sort of? My mixed methods dissertation looked at the practices of HIV prevention workers whose clients include injection drug users in Vancouver. I know work in a health sciences faculty, but my research has moved away from HIV/sexual health/drug use towards scholarship of teaching and learning. But in methodological terms all my research work has grown from the training I got during my MA and PhD.

What is your most memorable experience from your time in EDST?

The community. Faculty and staff who were real, approachable, forthright, and great role models. A diverse range of student experiences.

What is something that you needed to learn (beyond your degree) or unlearn to be able to work in your sector?

None come to mind.

Tell us a little about your career journey. Are there any transitions in your career path or any key moments that led to a change in direction?

Am a heretical academic: I started my PhD when I was 35 years old, so I was not inclined to follow the golden rule of “go where the job is, any job, and be grateful for it.” I saw one colleague do that and it ended up miserably. I even *gasp* turned down a job when the vibe I got from the unit was very, very negative and snarky. I resigned another job because I needed to be closer to home because my Mum was unwell. So my career has had ups and downs. But I’ve tried to follow the maximum that the point of a interview is to get an offer, rather than a job: there is no obligation to accept it if your instinct tells you otherwise.

But aside from having a decent (non-exploitative) salary, I’ve pursued the work—and where I’ve found interesting and rewarding work, I have been content.

How did you envision your career journey when you started your EDST program? And how did your career journey actually take off?

I have been employed every single day since graduating, though many of the jobs have been fixed term contracts. All were part of a coherent journey to me in terms of my career progression. But titles and wages themselves mean little to me, which is liberating.

Did your expectations for your career trajectories after graduation align with what really ended up happening? in what ways did they differ?

I didn’t think I’d end up living in Aotearoa. Which has not been a bad thing at all!

What is next for you, or do you know?

Work, love, eat, sleep, repeat. The order varies on the day.

How did your identity (who you are in terms of gender, race, age, being a parent or not, or citizenship, etc.) shape your career choices?

As a working class, queer person who lives with a couple of chronic health conditions/disabilities, I am “the exception that proves the rule” in a lot of the rooms I’m in. So I use that to an advantage when others seem to have a fetish for liberal meritocratic fantasies. I am in the room to change the room: not everyone with a similar positionality is comfortable in these spaces, so I feel an obligation to stay here.

Where do issues of inclusion find a place in your life or at work?

Daily, in terms of our teaching, our professions, and our staff.

What advice would you give to your past self?  

Wait 30 seconds before you say it.

What advice would you give to someone who seeks to work in your sector?

Go for it.

What advice would you give to EDST students trying to make the most of their time in grad school?

Gravitate towards the intellectually curious rather than the credentialists.

Tell us about any international work experience you embarked on during or after your program.

During my PhD I delivered some skills building workshops at a global AIDS conference in South Africa, which was brilliant. I also saved my pennies and went to SCUTREA in London one year.

I did a SSHRC postdoc in Australia, which led to several jobs Down Under. Am now based on Tāmaki Makaurau (Auckland) Aotearoa (New Zealand).

How has remote work impacted your job/sector?

Massively. In too many ways to describe here.

What’s the purpose of applying for a job?

To get an interview (so less is sometimes more in a cover letter: make them want to talk to you to know more).

What’s the purpose of a job interview?

For any number of reasons, you should reject an offer (low wages, didn’t like the people, instinct)