Elaine Rowena Dobson was born in Loughborough, England in 1945. She studied at Newcastle Conservatorium of Music and Teachers' College from 1963-66, where she was the recipient of a New South Wales State Government Scholarship. She earned her BMus (hons in composition) in 1972 and MMus (composition) in 1976, both from the University of Queensland.
From 1974-78 she served as a full-time tutor at the University of Queensland's Department of Music and from 1979-84 as a Lecturer in Composition and Writing Techniques at Queensland Conservatorium of Music, where she was also Chairman of Academic Studies from 1982-84.
Dobson's awards include the Newcastle Teachers' College Music Prize (1966), Commonwealth Assistance to Australian Composers Inaugural Young Composers Fellowship (1970), Australian Commonwealth Open University Scholarship (1968-71) and the Australian Commonwealth Post Graduate Award (1972-73).
Her publications include contributions on twentieth-century composition to various periodicals and "George Dreyfus" in "Australian Composition in the Twentieth Century" (Eds Frank Callaway and David Tunley). Possessing a specialised interest is in Asian music she visited Tibet, Bhutan and Nepal in 1991 to conduct ethnomusicological research.
Dobson is currently a Senior Lecturer at the University of Canterbury.