A Chat with Suzi Derbyshire


In the words of our founder Jenny, "She's something!"

Suzi Derbyshire is the Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Learning and Teaching at the Queensland University of Technology. She is an incredibly influential woman who not only cares about the importance of education but also the importance of investing time into her students.

Suzi shares a personal connection with the X NIHILO team as she was an inspiration to our founder, Jenny, when she was a student at QUT. Jenny describes Suzi as a mentor and positive role model, and she was an obvious choice to include in our YOU Campaign. Due to her contribution to education and her message to be open to change, Suzi is one of the many women chosen to be a part of the campaign that celebrates female empowerment and strong, confident women from all walks of life.

Who are YOU? 

“I am currently the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Learning and Teaching) at QUT.”

Suzi has 23 years of teaching and leadership experience in higher education both in the United Kingdom and Australia. She completed her fashion training at Central St Martin's School of Art in London and began her career as a freelance womenswear designer both in London and Hong Kong. Suzi moved to Australia in 2002 to become the inaugural Head of Fashion within the Creative Industries Faculty at the Queensland University of Technology and has held that role ever since.

What do YOU do?

“I'm responsible for learning and teaching vision and enabling strategies at QUT.”

Suzi is a member of the senior leadership team at QUT, which has approximately 50,000 students. As a university for the real world, they care deeply about the learning experiences they create for and with their students, helping them build the skills and capabilities that will enable them to thrive in a world of rapid, disruptive change.

Why do YOU do it?

“I believe that learning changes lives.”

Suzi stands behind her belief to create engaging learning experiences and support her students to develop curiosity, resilience and creativity. She thrives on helping them create meaningful lives for themselves, gives them the opportunity to have choices throughout their lives and enable them to make valuable contributions to their families and communities.

How did YOU start?

“I was always a good student but I never quite fitted in.”

Suzi had the desire to study both art and science but her school wouldn’t allow it. Instead of being forced to choose between one and the other, Suzi left school to pursue art college and began her journey towards being a fashion designer. She loved studying and working in different parts of the world but a force pulled her back to education and she shifted from working as a designer to educating fashion designers, first in the UK and then Australia.

“I never imagined myself in a role like the one I have now but I have found it to be the most creative opportunity I have ever had! Design plays a big part in my role as we explore ways to enable 21st-century students and equip them for 21st-century careers.”

Who do YOU look up to?

Suzi states that she looks up to many people, both whom she knows personally and some she admires from a distance. She credits her leadership skills to the great bosses and leaders that she has had in her past, and feels lucky to have worked with such inspirational people.

“In terms of fashion, my most enduring admiration probably goes to Karl Lagerfield. I had images of his work with me when I interviewed for Central St Martin's in 1982 and I am still thrilled when I see the collections being designed at Chanel. I also look up to designers such as Vivienne Westwood and Alexander Mcqueen and then there's David Bowie who was in a league of his own...”


What's YOUr final message?

We loved Suzi’s advice to “Stay open to change and say yes to things even if they scare you.” 

She stated that life is long and full of opportunities. People should never stop learning (and unlearning) and nothing is more uninspiring than someone who is unwilling to grow. She recommended doing some soul searching to find out who you truly are: what matters to you, what do you care about, what legacy do you want to leave. Once you know these things, you can focus your energy to work hard and accomplish something of meaning with your life. 


LinkedIn | QUT



Suzi gave an amazing TED talk about the idea of design thinking and translates it into a series of very practical tips that you can employ yourself, every day to help you think more optimistically in times of uncertainty and ambiguity. Watch below!



Read more about our inspirational YOU campaign here


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