When you sit down with Paul Lee, Senior Lecturer in Aviation at USQ, you feel instantly at ease. A softly spoken man, his words reveal a life rich with experience, triumph and a love of flying. His journey has taken him from his rural hometown in Korea, to the coast of New Zealand and finally, to Australia and USQ.
Taking off: becoming a pilot instructor
At 22 years old, after completing mandatory military service in Korea, Paul took off to New Zealand on a quest to learn English. One day in Auckland, he noticed an aeroplane soaring over-head and had a sudden realisation. It was a moment that would see him strive for a career in the skies.
'In Korea, back then, there were very few private flying schools; a typical pathway to be a commercial pilot was to join the airforce first. I imagined it could be different in New Zealand, so I made some enquiries and soon started casual flight training. I did about 40 hours of flying over two or three months - it was an amazing feeling.'
From 1996 to 1998, Paul studied a Bachelor of Aviation Program at Massey University, followed by separately undertaking a flight instructor course. After being qualified as a flight instructor and securing his New Zealand residency in 2000, he spent the next ten years teaching and instructing at Massey, while also getting married and raising a family.
'I was so excited to send students on their first solo flight. I remember my own first time alone in the cockpit and it was thrilling - so I enjoy seeing my students experience that too. I also really enjoyed seeing my hard working students gain a job as airline pilots.'
In 2008, life threw Paul a curve ball in the form of a spontaneous lung collapse. It would be a career-changing moment.
A flight path to academia
Paul was medically grounded for six months after the surgery on his left lung, and a further twelve months as he had a preventative operation on his other lung. During this time, he was grateful to continue to work as a simulator instructor and later became an assistant lecturer – an academic position for which he discovered a true passion after completing his master’s degree part time.
'I was in a fortunate position. I was able to apply my flying experience in my lectures and I found I gained immense satisfaction from seeing my students succeed. It was also the right choice for my family; I wanted a stable family life, and to see my kids grow up.'
In 2010, Paul moved to Australia with Ria, who was yearning for a change from their small town of Palmerston North. For the next five years, he lectured at Griffith University and later commenced his PhD study. In 2015, Paul learned of an exciting opportunity at USQ where he was part of a great team, led by Professor Paul Bates, developing the suites of aviation programs, both undergraduate and postgraduate.
'I really enjoy working with Paul and the team. We saw the opportunity to design and develop the new aviation programs at the USQ Springfield campus so we all applied. It’s been a great success - the number of students in the Bachelor of Aviation program has doubled in four years. And in 2020, the program will also be offered in Toowoomba.”
Life at USQ and beyond
Paul is clearly thriving at USQ and says he feels fulfilled in his role:
'I’ve had the rare opportunity to design the Program from the ground-up. It’s been immensely satisfying and exciting. If I was just after money, I would be working for an airline rather than a university. But I get so much from working with students and catering for different learning needs while sharing my knowledge and experience in aviation. I also get along so well with my colleagues; they are like my family. l love working at USQ.'
True to his humble nature, Paul doesn’t reveal until the end of our conversation that he has just completed his PhD, Threat and Error Management in Aviation, which explores the effects of post-implementation of Threat and Error Management in Australian general aviation.
'I haven’t flown during my PhD so that I could stay focused! But now that I’ve finished, I am considering going back to instructing casually or making use of my drone licence.'
With his PhD at the printers, Paul says he looks forward to a future in academia at USQ, with a strong research focus on safety in general aviation. As for the weekends, you’ll likely find him in the park with his wife and children, drone controller in hand, tracing the silhouette of the clouds.
Find out more about current career opportunities and what it’s like to work at USQ.