Whilst on special leave, he was a Visiting Assistant Professor at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, USA in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. In 1987, he returned to the University of Witwatersrand as a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Metallurgy and Materials Engineering and in 1992, became an Associate Professor (on the Special List) in the Department of Metallurgy and Materials Engineering, eventually serving as Acting Head of the Branch of Physical Metallurgy.
He has spent time on sabbatical leave in the Department of Mechanical and Process Engineering at the University of Sheffield, working in the Structural Integrity Research Institute. He moved to the UK in 1996 where he took up the Chair in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Plymouth. At the beginning of 2003, he was appointed Dean of the Faculty of Technology at Plymouth with some 140 academic staff and 2000 students.
Professor James is a Fellow of the Institute of Materials, London, a Fellow of the South African Institution of Mechanical Engineers, registered as a Chartered Engineer with the Engineering Council of London and registered with the Engineering Council of South Africa as a Professional Engineer.
He was invited by the Higher Education Funding Council of England (HEFCE) to serve on the subject panel for Mechanical, Aeronautical and Manufacturing Engineering for its 2001 Research Assessment Exercise - a major exercise which assesses research in all universities in England on a four year cycle. He is also Co-Editor of the International Journal of Fatigue, a leading Elsevier Science publication in the field. He has published widely in international journals and is a recognised expert in the areas of fatigue, crack growth, residual stresses and failure analysis and fractography.