Over the last decade, flying has become closely woven into the fabric of the life of USQ Professor Chris Lee who regularly escapes to the skies.

In the years since buying his single engine Romanian-built Yak 52, Chris has come to find his time at the controls frees his mind from the demands of his duties at the University of Southern Queensland. “Not many people understand a lot about what happens in the working life of an academic,” says Chris, who is Professor of English, the Associate Dean (Research) in the Faculty of Arts, and Chair of USQ’s new Research Leadership Development Program. “The public wonder what you do when the students aren’t around but universities are big, complex, diverse corporations and an academic’s role is a very challenging full-time job.

“Academics research as well as teach and are innovators constantly seeking new ways of thinking which, with the rapid expansion of global knowledge, means they are always on the run. Added to that there is the management side which involves lots of rules and regulations, lots of committees and meetings and lots of policies to be established.

“But once you are in a plane you cannot be thinking about work, the Wallabies or anything else because flying is ritualised as a part of an entirely serious strategy of risk management … and that clears the mind and steadies the nerve.”

These days, Chris flies most weekends – weather permitting – practising his aerobatic routine, sometimes in formation with other pilots from Toowoomba Airport, and often displays the Yak 52 at Open Days held around the state. “I guess I was fascinated by aeroplanes as a boy and I’d always thought about learning to fly,” he says. “I decided to have a crack at it in 2002 and it has become wonderful therapy for me.”

That was nine years after Chris and his wife Majella, who have three children Dustin, Madeleine and Harriet, had moved to Toowoomba after Chris accepted a position teaching literature at USQ.

Although his father Kevin’s family connection to the Garden City stretches back to the 1890s – his mother Anne is from a well-known Peak Crossing family – Chris was born and raised in Brisbane.

After earning a Diploma of Applied Science from the Queensland University of Technology, he began working as a radiographer at Mater Hospital where he met Majella. He studied at University of Queensland where he gained a BA in English, with first class honours in 1986, and secured a scholarship to complete a PhD.

In the two decades since, he has become a highly valued research fellow at the university, and last year was chosen to implement the Research Leadership Development Program. “This is going to be another big, busy year for me but it is all good,” he says with a smile on his face. “Toowoomba is a beautiful place, it has been good to us and USQ is a great place to work. I believe it is going places.”

 Words by Graeme Kelly