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      Work/life experiences of Brookes’ academics



    Think big and work towards a vision.

    Nigel Crook is a researcher in Artificial Intelligence and robotics and is Head of Computing and Communication Technologies (CCT) and Interim Head of MEMS (Mechanical Engineering and Mathematical Sciences). He joined Oxford Brookes as a PhD student in 1985.
  • Nigel studied for his undergraduate degree at Lancaster University, initially doing Maths and Philosophy before switching to Computing and Philosophy, being particularly attracted to the logic side of Philosophy. He moved to - as it was then- Oxford Polytechnic in 1985 to undertake a PhD in Medical Diagnostics Systems and upon completion in 1989, became a lecturer. Whilst he never set out with the explicit intention of becoming an academic, he has followed his interests - logic, philosophy and computing: “the career path emerged from this, if you like”. Over the following 20 years he moved through various positions including Reader, before deciding to take voluntary severance in 2008.

    His intention at this point was to go into full time church work as he is extremely interested in the field of apologetics. This was “a difficult decision to take because you are stepping out of security”. However, he realised that this was in fact not quite the right path for him, and that in fact his faith would best be served inside the University.

    He thus decided to switch course and took a postdoc position at the University of Oxford on a European project for two and a half years which he describes as “fantastic”. Nigel then returned to Brookes as Head of Department in 2011 and early in 2017, took on another department head role. So, he found himself “heading out of the door of the University and then…coming back in”.

    During his time at Oxford, Nigel was inspired by Professor John Lennox, who was a Professor of Maths there.

    He’s one of my heroes really, he’s been successful as an academic and also been able to follow this apologetics route in a difficult environment.

    It inspired Nigel himself to want to be in a position where he could talk about his faith in contact with his work. This period was a real eye-opener, he says it: “inspired him to think big. It’s only since coming back and into this role that I can see that it is possible to do this stuff and it’s not beyond reach”. Coming back, his focus is more on his own research whereas earlier in his career he was aspirational in terms of status- becoming reader, for example.

    Nigel put a lot of thought into how he could best combine his faith with his research, reflecting on how his academic expertise might enable him to marry the two. He realised that AI and apologetics were asking many of the same questions, particularly regarding what and who human beings are. Now he is lucky that both his main interests are coming together. Over last six months he has realised that he can combine his theological perspective with his AI work, in how to develop Robots with moral character. This speaks to questions at the heart of both his religious and academic interests.

    Nigel is the son of bakers and confectioners and was the first in his family to go to university. He is married and has five children spanning the ages of six to 25. Whilst his work often required him to work evenings, he is lucky that his wife works part-time and describes himself as quite protective of family life. 
    Outside of Brookes, Nigel is also very active in his church - preaching about six times a year - and his faith is a key driver of his personal and professional decisions. He plays keyboard and bass guitar in the music group at his church and his passion for music doesn’t stop there: he is also learning jazz piano. Nigel has written a course on discipleship and is in the process of rolling that out. He has done the course with four or five small groups so far and it consists of 24 weekly sessions that cover the essentials of discipleship as understood in 1st Century Christianity. 

    Think big and work towards a vision.