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Professor Hadyn Ellis


Hadyn Ellis, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Cardiff University died on 2nd November. His death at the age of 61 was caused by cancer. Hadyn Ellis was a psychologist with an internationally acknowledged reputation established first for his pioneering research on the cognitive psychology of face recognition. His leadership roles in Cardiff University included a long and successful period as Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research, as well as many years as Head of the School of Psychology. His professional life was characterised by a devotion to research excellence and research-led teaching, coupled to the very highest principles of integrity, loyalty and courtesy. At the same time he sustained a research output of some 160 publications. He was an excellent communicator; greatly admired for his ability to listen, to probe, and to act with gentle but firm powers of persuasion. For more than two decades at Cardiff University, and with strength of character, clarity of vision, and not a little humour, he made academic life both successful and congenial.

From St Julian's High School in Newport, Gwent, he went up to the University of Reading, graduating with a BA in Psychology in 1967 and a PhD in 1971. His first lecturing post was in the Department of Psychology at the University of Aberdeen and was as enjoyable as it was productive. During his time there his interest shifted to cognitive psychology, focusing on applied issues in environmental psychology such as cognitive impairments due to cold and deep-sea diving, but more especially to the study of face recognition. His 1975 review of this field remains a landmark that also spawned something of a mini-industry — one of largely British origin — that was world-leading in its impact. His academic work was certainly far-reaching in substance and the collegiate style of his proselytising about its usefulness not only served to propagate research activity in the area, but also foreshadowed a style of working that made his academic life thereafter both effective and influential.

In 1986 he left a Senior Lectureship at Aberdeen to become Professor of Applied Psychology at what was then the University of Wales Institute of Science and Technology (UWIST) at Cardiff. The move was made at a particularly propitious time, with the merger with University College Cardiff underway and the formation of a single School of Psychology of which he became Head in 1989.

The UK-wide Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) served as common purpose for the development of his School. By 2001 Psychology at Cardiff had achieved the elite status of 6* (given for highest rankings in successive RAEs); its size had more than doubled (with a tripling of PhD students and research income), and its breadth of coverage, both in research and teaching, included all the key areas of contemporary psychology.

On becoming the University's Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research in 1994 — while also Head of School — he extended what had worked so well in his School to practice in the University more broadly; this time leading a radical strategic research agenda coupled to extremely ambitious goals. The dynamic partnership with the then Vice-Chancellor, Sir Brian Smith, was forceful and potent, creating the conditions in which Cardiff University's notable growth and success flourished. One goal was to double research income in the period 1996-2001. This was realised two years early, helping to propel the University's research - ranked as 35th in the UK in 1992 - to 7th in the Times Higher league tables less than 10 years later.

Becoming Deputy Vice-Chancellor to a newly appointed Vice-Chancellor in 2001 proved to be a seamless transition to broader strategic responsibilities. These were exercised to good effect in the merger with the University of Wales College of Medicine, finalised in 2004, in which his skills — now well-honed in enjoining people to participate to mutual advantage — were vital, and during which he was able to champion and expand the University's base of interdisciplinary research.

He was at various times appointed to the Council of the Economic and Social Research Council, and Chair of its Training Board leading a significant shift toward improving the research training within higher degrees. He was a member of the Board of the Quality Assurance Agency, and member of several of its sub-groups, a member of the Quality Framework Development Group, charged with recommending definitions of levels for all post-16 educational qualifications. In 2004 he was awarded a CBE in the Queen's Birthday honours list for his contribution to higher education.

Despite these more senior responsibilities he was still able to develop his research and to publish regularly. He contributed significantly the study of cognitive neuropsychiatry (a term he coined). The early interest in face recognition was extended to a number of very intriguing questions about how the brain solves problems about personal identity; turning to neurology for relevant clinical cases and focusing his interest on prosopagnosia — the inability to recognise faces following brain injury — he published ground-breaking work framing what had been a classical problem in contemporary neuropsychological terms. This was followed by work on psychiatric symptoms involving aberrant face recognition found in psychosis. This neuropsychological perspective also encompassed Asperger syndrome — a type of Autism that allows some psychological functions to function efficiently — which he was to link with a disorder of development in white matter that serves as a key communication pathway within the brain. In more recent years he began to focus on the examination of delusions as a way of better understanding belief formation.

Hadyn Ellis relished the company of others, primarily his family — Diane, Stephen, Robert and Jack — but also that of colleagues and friends. His homes in Castleton and France were fashioned with relaxation and hospitality in mind. His wife Diane, a gifted educational psychologist, provided cooking of extraordinary quality while Hadyn plied their guests with expansive conversation delivered with humour and many a groan-inducing pun.

In spite of extreme discomfort, he worked his last months, fully engaged in his role as Deputy Vice-Chancellor, in addition to publishing research. During this time he was somewhat taken aback by the very many expressions of affection and regard from colleagues at all levels within the University and beyond. These buoyed his spirits and helped him share with the rest of us a certainty that the fruits of his work as a scholar and research strategist would endure.

Hadyn Douglas Ellis, academic, scholar and research strategist, born October 25th 1945; died 2nd November 2006.