Appointed Lecturer in Criminal Justice Social Work at the University in 1976, Bryan was responsible for developing and teaching that specialist elective on the original Postgraduate Diploma and subsequently MSW courses. His research and publications over many years focused on the effectiveness of community criminal sanctions and he developed the widely-used national risk of custody prediction scale known as DUNSCORE. He was directly involved in the introduction of the undergraduate social work course and the national child protection and community care programmes at Dundee. He was appointed Professor of Social Work in 1989, becoming the founder Head of a new free-standing academic department, a position he held until 2005. From that date he was seconded by the University to become firstly, founder Director of a university collaboration, The Scottish Institute for Social Work Education and then founder CEO of a university-employer collaboration, The Institute for Research and Innovation in Social Services (IRISS). Both these organisations were focused on improving professional education and practice using research-based evidence and digital technologies. He was appointed Emeritus Professor on his retirement from the University in 2009.
Among many public appointments, Bryan was National Chairman of SACRO, a Board Member of The Central Council for Educational and Training in Social Work and The Scottish Social Services Council. He chaired the group which developed the UK Academic Benchmark Statement for social work degrees and led the Scottish Executive work producing the national sector standards, known as the Standards in Social Work Education. He was awarded the OBE in 2003 for services to social work education.