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Frank Lai

Dr Frank Lai

Colleagues will be very sorry to hear of the death, on 24 November 2017, of Dr Frank Lai, who was a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Transport Studies (ITS).   The following obituary has been written by Professor Richard Batley.

Frank first came to the Institute and University in 1996 as a student on Leeds’ world-renowned MSc programme in Transport Planning and Engineering.   He stayed on at the Institute to undertake doctoral studies in the area of road user behaviour under the supervision of Professor Oliver Carsten.   Following the award of his PhD in 1999, Frank was appointed to the academic staff of the Institute.   There began an 18-year career at the Institute, which has sadly been cut short after Frank lost a courageous battle against cancer.

Frank’s philosophy was to be a ‘research-focused individual dedicated to enhancing understanding of transport challenges, improving research techniques, facilitating knowledge transfer and promoting life-long learning’.   His research sought to further understanding of road user behaviour, through projects funded by the UK government, the European Commission, and the UK research councils.   This work encompassed interests in intelligent transport systems (ITS), traffic management, road accident causation, and future mobility. Frank’s projects typically involved the deployment of both quantitative and qualitative research methods, to inform the design of transport infrastructure and/or technology interventions, as well as to evaluate the effectiveness of these interventions.

Alongside his research, Frank was a hugely committed and effective teacher, playing a leading role across the Institute’s postgraduate and undergraduate portfolio.   Frank managed and taught on three Masters modules (Transport Data Collection and Analysis, Traffic Management, and Safety of Road Transport) as well as an undergraduate module (Transport, Mobility and Safety).   He also supervised Masters dissertations and PhD theses across a range of fields, including road user behaviour, road engineering, transport planning and policy.   Frank’s popularity with students was obvious to his academic colleagues – since he always went the extra mile for his students both academically and pastorally.

Last but not least, Frank added particular impetus to ITS’s internalisation agenda, by acting as the Institute’s International Student Advisor, and playing an instrumental role in establishing substantive links with institutions in Taiwan and China (especially the South West Jiaotong Joint School).   Typically two-thirds of ITS’s 100-strong annual postgraduate cohort are international, and Frank’s passing will therefore bring much sadness to our alumni spread across all corners of the world.

The staff of the Institute will remember Frank as a hugely talented and committed colleague, as well as being a lovely person.   Frank’s legacy will be carried forward into the future as we celebrate his life through the newly-established ‘Frank Lai Student Award for Impact or Innovation through a Masters Dissertation’, which will be presented for the first time at this year’s graduation celebration.

Frank is survived by his wife Karen and daughter Leanne.   A private family funeral was held on Monday 4 December, on which date the University flag was flown at half-mast as a mark of respect.