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What's it like being a... dental academic lecturer: Alexander Holden

Blog Author Alexander Holden

Blog Date 18/01/2019

Alexander Holden is a senior lecturer in dental ethics, law and professionalism in Sydney, Australia. He tells us about his day…




My alarm goes off….

My day typically starts at around 6.30 am. I have a working breakfast; when business spans several continents and time-zones, it means you usually wake up to a full inbox! I usually sit out on our balcony where I can listen to the birds.

I'll sometimes use this time to connect with some key partners from regulatory bodies or other areas of the dental industry.


I'm responsible for…

I am a senior lecturer in dental ethics, law and professionalism at The University of Sydney School of Dentistry, I split my time between teaching, research and engagement activities.

I am Head of Subject Area for Professional Practice which includes ethics, law, professionalism and communication skills. I also teach dental public health within the dental school at undergraduate and postgraduate level. 

My research interests include applying ethical and social theory to the area of oral health and dentistry, developing the theory basis around how the dental profession interacts and relates to society and law as applied to dentistry.

Much of my publishing output this year has examined ethical and legal issues surrounding cosmetic dentistry.

I am also an honorary Associate of Sydney Health Ethics; a multi-disciplinary centre at the university dedicated to the advancement of ethics in medicine, healthcare and beyond.


I got the job

I was born in Nottingham and qualified as a dentist in Sheffield, UK. But my wife and I had always dreamed of exploring Australia.

We graduated together in 2011 (she is also a dentist) and after a few years of working in England, in 2015 we decided to take the plunge and go 'walkabout' for a year.

About a month before we left, I saw a position for a lecturer in dental ethics at The University of Sydney advertised and thought I would give it a shot…and, as they say, the rest is history!


My typical day

One of the wonderful things about my role is that no two days are the same.

The Sydney Dental School is situated across several different campuses, so it really depends upon whether I'm teaching or doing research, or if I'm meeting up with other academics from other schools and departments as to where I might be based.

I have a lot of different research projects that I'm involved with, so it means that I get to be fairly mobile.

I work closely with key stakeholders within the dental profession; I recently was elected as a Federal Councillor for the Australian Dental Association and I am a member of the NSW Registrations Committee for the Dental Board of Australia. These roles help me to stay in touch with the wider profession and also keep me grounded with the issues that need to be explored and discussed.

One of the big things with academic life is the ability to work and collaborate with colleagues from different backgrounds.

Everyday is a learning curve and I get to work with so many talented people. It makes you realise that the success of the dental profession moving forward is completely reliant on our ability to collaborate and engage in inter-professional practice.  

We also have several projects outside of Sydney; occasionally my commute will be a flight over 750km to some of our rural settings where we engage in teaching, research and clinical care in collaboration with the Poche Centre for Indigenous Health and the local communities.

I also do at least one day a week in private practice to make sure I maintain my clinical skills.


The worst part of my job…

Academia is very different to working in clinical practice; no matter how much you might want to, as a clinical dentist you can't really take your work home with you!

It's not unusual for me to start work at 6.45 in the morning and finish working at well past midnight. But for me, it's not a hardship, because I am passionate about it. Sometimes there are tight deadlines that mean that you have to drop other things.

This does mean it can hard to maintain a work-life balance and you need an understanding and supportive network around you.

You have to be very self-disciplined with how you structure your time.


The best part of my job…

As dentists, we don't produce the next generation of our profession biologically, but we do socially and culturally.

It's really special to be part of students' growth and to see them develop their professional identities and skills.

I love working with lots of different people from diverse professional and cultural backgrounds; every day you learn something new!

I always found that clinical dentistry could be a little bit lonely, and in my academic role, that's never an issue. Working in a university has been great in allowing me to develop my skills in research and teaching. Since joining the university, I have started my PhD which continues to be exciting and enlightening!


After work…



Sydney has a great café-culture and has a lot of nice restaurants and places to hang out. Sydney does coffee very well!

I love wildlife, so we often go for walks and go exploring in the bush. It's amazing that even in a big city, you are never that far from green, wild spaces and the wildlife tends to be quite bold, especially the parrots! I have been a keen wildlife photographer since before coming out to Australia. I won an award in 2016 from the Zoological Society of London as part of their photography competition for my picture of a Kingfisher, taken near Leeds in the UK. There is no shortage of willing subjects to be photographed down under!

One of my hobbies that has grown since moving to Sydney is growing jungle cacti (mainly Epiphyllum, Rhipsalis and Selenicereus species); in the UK it was difficult because it was hard to get the right warmth and humidity; in Sydney they grow like weeds!

Much to the horror of my wife, I love looking for spiders and other things that I probably should stay away from.

It's quite common to get huntsman spiders the size of your hand here. I'm currently looking into how I can install a hive of native Australian bees onto our balcony…!


My Plan B

Being able to devote my career to the aspects of dentistry that I really enjoy and feel engaged with is an absolute privilege, as is working with a group of people I can only aspire to one day emulate.

But, if it all ended tomorrow, I'd probably go and work in the law school; they have a better café than we do!

Alexander-Holden-thumbnail-125px.jpgAlexander Holden, Dental Ethics, Law and Professionalism | Head of Subject Area - Professional Practice, The University of Sydney School of Dentistry




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