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Long-time fellowship supporter to retire

Dr John Fry is retiring from UCD after being the Course Director of the MSc (Agr.) in Environmental Resource Management for the last 24 years. A long-time supporter of the Irish Aid Fellowship Programme, he will be greatly missed.  We caught up with him to reflect on his career and hear about his plans for the future.

Dr Fry has been a lecturer and key figure within UCD‘s School of Agriculture and Food Science for thirty-nine years. He will be a familiar face not just to graduates of the Master’s in Environmental Resource Management (known as MERMS) but also to many other fellows who have attended ICOS social functions down the years.

Educated in the UK, Dr Fry describes his path into the agricultural sciences as not being an instinctual one:  "At secondary school, I was dissuaded from Arts into Sciences - I think that was school pressure simply to bolster their science numbers, but it was probably a good long-term idea."

After completing a degree in biology at the University of York in northern England, he says he was  "dithering between possible research in either animal behaviour or photosynthesis", opting for the latter when a PhD scholarship offer came along. "The topic was seasonal control of photosynthesis (i.e. stress physiology), and it could have been on any plant species, but the funding was for work on conifers.  So after working with Sitka spruce for 3 years (and having the scars to prove it), I can call myself a forester if I want."

While doing his PhD at the University of Exeter, John became involved in many extra-curricular activities and developed his interest in folk music and Morris dancing. Still a folk music fan, his record collection now amounts to some 12,000 items and has resulted in the ‘ERM Songbook’ that he gives to his students.

"The UCD job (in what was then Agricultural Botany) was one of a batch of 4 university jobs advertised immediately after I had finished my PhD. Small group teaching is an incredibly rewarding situation and I was hooked.  It works even better with more mature students such as MSc Agriculture in Environmental Resource Management students.  I have always been lucky with the students I have encountered, and I always think I’ve learned from them at least as much as I’ve communicated."

The MSc (Agr) in Environmental Resource Management started in 1990. It is a valuable programme providing expertise in sustainable environmental management to students from a variety of backgrounds: agricultural managers to architects to economists. Dozens of Irish Aid Fellows have studied the course over the years. The programme has always been welcoming and accommodating to IA Fellows, the course structure was even altered to ensure sufficient time for Fellows to conduct home based research.

But the benefits flow both ways, as Dr Fry notes: "The Irish Aid Fellows have been of enormous significance to the programme’s other participants, helping to expand the horizons of the Irish students."

Dr Fry will continue working at UCD though 2015. After that, or possibly in tandem, he is considering some environmental consultancy work. Professional plans aside, Dr Fry has plenty ideas as to how he will enjoy his retirement: "Were I to feel at a loose end, I have it in the back of my head to get involved in charity shop work - both as a general dogsbody, and to contribute my specialist knowledge of second-hand books and records. However, I have at least one serious article on folk music history in my head to get onto paper and published."

"Apart from that", he adds, "I have about 40 offers of accommodation around the world from former MERMs and other students, so we may plan a few trips."