Professor Sue Black

Professor Sue Black

Position: Professor of Anatomy and Forensic Anthropology, Deputy Principal for Public Engagement, Director of CAHID, Human Identification Research, Expert Forensic Practitioner, Patron Dundee Women in Science Festival.  

Address: Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification, University of Dundee, Dundee

T: +44 (0) 1382 38 5776

Website: CAHID Website


Professor Sue Black was born in Inverness and educated at Inverness Royal Academy.

In 1982 she was awarded a Bachelor of Science with Honours in human anatomy from the University of Aberdeen. She later went on to earn her Doctor of Philosophy in human anatomy for her thesis on 'Identification from the human skeleton', also from the University of Aberdeen.

In 1987, she took up the post of lecturer in Anatomy at St Thomas' Hospital, London, starting her career in forensic anthropology, she served in this role until 1992.

Between 1992 and 2003 she undertook various contract work for the United Kingdom's Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the United Nations, involving the identification of victims and perpetrators of various conflicts.

In 1999, she became the lead forensic anthropologist to the British Forensic Team in Kosovo, deployed by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on behalf of the United Nations.

In 2003 she undertook two tours to Iraq and in 2005 she participated in the United Kingdom's contribution to the Thai Tsunami Victim Identification operation, as part of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami international response.

In 2003, Black was appointed Professor of Anatomy and Forensic Anthropology at the University of Dundee. In 2008, she was appointed as head of the newly created Centre for Anatomy & Human Identification at the University of Dundee (CAHID).

Professor Black is past President of the British Association of Human Identification (BAHID), and the current President of Association for Science Education (Scotland).



In my formative years, Dundee was not viewed as a highly desirable place. So when I almost accidentally reacquainted myself with the town and got to know the gown within it – I was hugely impressed at the changes that had occurred and the strength of partnership that the university had with its community.

I could not imagine any other university having the degree of flexibility and trust to allow me to do what I have done here and for that I will be eternally grateful to those who gave me the opportunity to work here.

A defining time was certainly my deployments to Kosovo during the war crimes investigations. It demanded that I address my strengths and weaknesses and it reinforced the value of our discipline to current events. It brought home the enormity of suffering not only for victims of torture and abuse but the legacy that leaves with families and loved ones.

This work has gone on to influence me not only through the work that we do in mass fatality events but also when we are involved in investigations of local and national crimes, some of which are incredibly brutal.

I don't support equality in terms of numbers but I do strongly believe in equality for all, through ensuring that there are no barriers for people to overcome simply because of their gender, their age, their beliefs or any other factor.

I oppose positive discrimination as much as negative discrimination and my hopes would be that we never need to have to talk again about 'women in science' just about 'scientists in science'. We need to strive for level playing fields but not trying to achieve them through engineering numbers but through enlightened facilitation. Different sciences will eventually reach what is a natural equilibrium of gender equality and what that looks like will be really interesting to see.

I think we are nearly there for some subjects in some countries but we have a long way to go in others. A level playing field is one that ensures that everyone who is capable, and who wishes to do so, can reach their own goal without hindrance.

Honesty. People can be truly judged by what they do and what they think when nobody is looking. I have been blessed by some tremendous role models throughout my career. Kind and generous people who have been prepared to share selflessly their ideas and their values and who have never hesitated to confront me and tell me when they thought I was wrong.

I believe that to be in a successful leadership role you are foolish if you surround yourself only with people who agree with you, because it is wise to listen carefully to those who may know better and a leader who thinks they have all the answers is a fool.

An honest role model must give praise and credit where it is due but also be prepared to instruct, guide and mentor when required.

I have no balance and probably never had or indeed ever will have. I live to work and when I have spare time – I fill it with work. It is perhaps not viewed as a virtue for a good role model but I have become comfortable with the truth of my way of working and what is comfortable for me.

Our lives are short and we should feel empowered to fill it in a way that is of the individual's choosing, not what is expected or anticipated. If my choice is not to have a balance then it should be my choice and it is neither right for me to expect it of others or indeed to have others criticise me for my choice.

I enjoy that every single day is different and we cannot predict what the day will bring. It might be something to do with our students, a new research finding, a forensic case or a court room battle.

The phone ringing can change each and every one of our days beyond any reasonable expectation and that is exciting.

I wish I had known that it was okay to recognise my own strengths and weaknesses for what they were and I wish I had had the confidence to believe in my own understanding of me, rather than trying to mould myself into something that others wanted or expected of me. It might have been a happier and more fulfilling career.

Individuality is rarely encouraged and I have learned so much more from my failures than from my successes. They hurt more, but they are character defining. Unfortunately confidence is not something that you can easily transpose to an early career but it is the old adage - if I only knew then what I know now, I would have done this very differently.