Oxford to get second woman vice-chancellor in its over 900-year-history

Irene Tracey will take over from Richardson next year

By Prasun Sonwalkar

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Professor Irene Tracey. Photo: University of Oxford
Professor Irene Tracey. Photo: University of Oxford

Published: Tue 10 May 2022, 4:22 PM

Last updated: Tue 10 May 2022, 7:49 PM

Irene Tracey, a renowned neuroscientist, has been nominated as the next vice-chancellor of the ancient University of Oxford – the second woman to hold the key office after the current vice-chancellor, Louise Richardson, who took over in 2016.

The university’s history goes back to 1096, evolving over the centuries to become one of the top-ranked centres of learning, attracting students and experts from across the world.

Tracey will take over from Richardson next year, the university said.

Born in Oxford, Tracey is currently the warden of Merton College (founded in 1264), where she also completed her undergraduate degree and doctorate in biochemistry. She is also professor of Anaesthetic Neuroscience in the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences, a department she led for several years.

She also held a postdoctoral position at Harvard Medical School, working at the Martinos Centre for Biomedical Imaging, before returning to Oxford in 1997. Tracey's research on the neuroscience of pain has contributed to a better understanding of pain perception and the representation of pain in the brain.

The vice-chancellor is the university's senior officer, responsible for the strategic direction and leadership. Tracey’s nomination has been approved by the University's Council and is now subject to approval by Congregation, the University's sovereign body.

Following approval from the Congregation, Tracey will succeed Richardson in 2023, the university said.

The Nominating Committee was chaired by Chancellor Chris Patten, and included members from across the collegiate university. The committee was also attended for the first time by representatives of the student and early career researcher communities.

Tracey said of her nomination: “The last few years have reminded us all of the crucial role Oxford, along with other leading British universities, plays in tackling global societal issues. That is why I am deeply committed to growing Oxford's impact through supporting its groundbreaking discovery research, its excellence in teaching and its drive to create a global innovation powerhouse”.

Patten added: “Irene Tracey was born in Oxford and educated at a local comprehensive and Oxford University, for which she has now been proposed as the next Vice-Chancellor. It is an extraordinary story of personal achievement, social mobility and academic excellence. I doubt whether anyone knows more about the University and all its aspects than today's Warden of Merton”.

Besides holding several roles at the national and international levels, over the past 20 years Tracey and her multidisciplinary research team have contributed to a better understanding of pain perception, pain relief and nociceptive processing within the injured and non-injured human central nervous system, using advanced neuroimaging techniques and novel paradigm designs.

The university added that they have also been investigating the neural basis of altered states of consciousness induced by anaesthetic agents. Her work has both discovery and translational elements, and has contributed to a fundamental change in how we view pain as an emergent experience not simply related to nociceptive inputs.


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