Karen O’Brien joined Durham University in January 2022 after leading the humanities division at the University of Oxford, where she was jointly responsible for financial oversight, research strategy, and equalities and access priorities. During her time at Oxford, the humanities division increased its position at or near the top of the global and national league tables, enjoyed unprecedented research grant success, and secured funding for major new interdisciplinary initiatives in areas such as digital scholarship and the ethics of artificial intelligence.
O’Brien has a strong track record of promoting equity in staffing, and social inclusion at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. A committed internationalist, she played a key role in the University of Oxford’s global partnerships.
Earlier in her career O’Brien was a Harkness Fellow, spending time as a Visiting Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania. Prior to joining Oxford, she was vice-principal (education) at King’s College London. She has held a number of national and international leadership roles, and was, until recently, a member of the editorial board of The Conversation.