Pursue your passions - dean

00:49, Apr 23 2013
Dr Chris Gallavin
Inspiring: Associate professor and dean of law at the University of Canterbury Dr Chris Gallavin was back in his home province of Marlborough to talks to students at three colleges this week.

The last time Dr Chris Gallavin remembered being on stage at Marlborough Boys College he and his band were being chased off by the principal for playing too loudly at the seventh form dance.

Now, the-39-year-old is an associate professor and the dean of law at the University of Canterbury; thought to be the youngest dean in New Zealand.

He was back in Marlborough to give talks to the students at his old school, as well as at Marlborough Girls College and Queen Charlotte College.

"My message to the students wasn't to push them into a career in law, but to challenge them to become people who can do exciting things, and to pursue what they are passionate about because ultimately that is what they will be best at."

Dr Gallavin used himself as an example; an average student, "a bit of a nobody" whose first job out of school was working as a machinery workshop lackey. Not keen on becoming a mechanic, he took a job at the Blenheim courthouse as a court registrar, thus sparking his fascination with criminal law.

At 23, he decided to pursue a law degree at the University of Canterbury, finishing his first year with first class honours and in the top three of a class of 600.


"If I can do it, anyone can. I just found what I am passionate about."

While he liked to consider himself fairly practically-minded, Dr Gallavin said his real interest lay in academia.

His excellent results allowed him to do a PhD, but coming from a single parent home with seven other siblings meant that he could not afford to take up the offer of studying at the many prestigious universities which invited him to study with them.

"Luckily I was invited by Hull University in the North of England to do my PhD with them, all expenses paid," said Dr Gallavin, who took just 2 years to earn his doctorate. He stayed on at Hull as a lecturer of criminal law for two years before returning to Canterbury as a senior lecturer.

"Even though I have a lot of Irish blood, I don't identify with that part of the world as home. I very strongly identify as a South Island resident."

His sabbatical coincided with the two Christchurch earthquakes and Dr Gallavin returned home to a ruined city, something he found very difficult.

"I'm very passionate about my community and to see my old hangouts gone and friends having left was really hard."

He believed, however, the rebuild of the city would provide huge opportunities for the current generation of college and university graduates. The university, he felt, was and should be at the centre of the process.

"I want to see the university being a service to the community. Traditionally universities have been separate and aloof but we really need to be involved. One example of that is the great work that the Student Volunteer Army have been doing - they have made a huge difference."