What did you study at undergraduate level and when did you graduate? What are you studying now? Are you studying and working at the same time?
I have a Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies (Sustainability) with Honours (2011) and a Masters of Public Policy (2016), both from ANU. I completed my Masters degree part time over three years while working full time in the Australian Public Service. I am not currently studying, but hoping to do a doctorate degree sometime soon!
What have been the most important stages of your life?
I’m not sure about ‘stages’ but I’ve had a great time studying! My high school experience - particularly biology and history - inspired me to want to focus on sustainability and environmental science as a career path. One of my favourite experiences in high school was competing as a national finalist in the Tournament of Minds school competition.
My experience at ANU enabled me to focus my interests in interdisciplinary approaches to environment and sustainability, including tackling key environmental problems through a public policy lens. It also gave me a bunch of amazing opportunities.
During my undergraduate degree I got the chance to better understand Australia’s role in Asia through a Vietnam Field School, a summer school the National University of Singapore and presenting my honours research in China. I also spent time in North America with a student exchange to the University of Toronto, an internship at the Yale University Office of Sustainability and honours fieldwork at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Another formative experience was representing ANU through an International Climate Policy field school at the UN climate conference in Denmark.
The opportunities continued through my Masters, where I got the chance to work with a leading futurist to draft a published academic paper (Costanza et al 2015, Scenarios for Australia in 2050), and (last but not least!) completed a three month fellowship in the office of US senator John McCain. This was undoubtedly the professional highlight of my career, made possible through the Congressional Research Fellowship Program run through Crawford School. The Fellowship saw me jetting off to Washington DC for three months to work directly on policy and legislative development during the transition to an incoming administration, at the same time as undertaking an independent research project credited to my degree at ANU. One of the most surprising and humbling parts of my experience in the US was that I was treated as an expert in my field by the other staffers, and was handling a lot of the Senator's resource, environment and energy issues within a couple of weeks of my arrival. It was a chance not only to observe, but really influence the policy area I am passionate about.
How did you get to your current (or most recent) job position and how long have you been working there?
I have been an adviser at the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet since January 2018. My first focus when I arrived at PM&C was advising the Prime Minister on key developments in the roll-out of the NBN. I’ve now transitioned to a team advising on environmental policy issues such as Australia’s interests in Antarctica and drought resilient water infrastructure.
I have 6 years of experience in the public service focused mostly on different aspects of environmental policy (for example, Great Barrier Reef, international marine policy, international carbon markets). I got offered my current position by applying for a general job round at PM&C. In my interview I noted my background and interest in environmental policy but also signalled I was keen to broaden my policy experience and gain an understanding of how things work in a 'central' federal agency. I used examples from my US Congressional Fellowship (where I worked on a broad range of resource, energy, indigenous and communications issues) and my Masters courses to evidence my generalist skills and interests. Something must have won them over!
What made you decide to progress with further study?
I applied for my Masters because of a few factors: 1) my brain felt like it was getting dusty, 2) I was interested in eventually progressing to a doctoral degree but did not quite feel ready yet, and 3) the generous study provisions of my employer at that time, including paid leave and partial reimbursement of course fees, meant I could complete a world class degree without a significant financial burden.
How did you choose your particular further study course (compared to others)? Were you weighing up any alternative degrees or career pathways before choosing this qualification?
I needed to choose something that was both directly relevant to my work and was offered locally (as study by distance was not supported by my work when I first applied). Of course, the fact that ANU and the renowned Crawford School were just down the road made this an easy sell. I also looked at a Masters of Climate Change and Masters of Environmental Management or Development (at ANU). I chose the Masters of Public Policy because this offered a more flexible/generalist stream that I could adapt to my changing interests and work at the time. Having to continuously explain my unusual undergrad degree, I also chose the MPP because it allowed me to study practically the same courses as the other two, but would be more recognisable and stand the test of time for prospective employers.
What was the process to get accepted into your course? What were the prerequisites?
Getting accepted was a pretty simple process. I put in a short application direct through ANU's website, including providing my old student number which allowed Crawford School to access my ANU transcripts. I think the minimum prerequisite at that time was a Bachelors degree, a GPA of 5 out of 7 and bonus consideration for honours, other graduate level studies or work experience in public policy. The degree has since shifted from a one year to two year delivery mode. This change enables applicants’ bonus study/experience to be more directly awarded advance credit.
What does your study involve? Can you describe a typical day? (if it’s difficult to describe a typical day, tell us about the last thing you worked on?)
My time studying at Crawford was like having a very motivating and time-consuming hobby! A typical day was jam packed but manageable, due to working full time and studying part time. I usually took one subject per semester, which might mean one or two days of going to uni each week, plus cordoning off a few hours across the week (weekends, before work or lunch breaks) for preparatory readings and assignments. Most of the assessment involved written work, group work and participation rather than rote learning or major exams.
The Crawford School course schedule is well designed to cater for its large number of part time students, with most lectures and tutorials offered in the late afternoon or evening. Lucky for me, my work was usually supportive of me leaving a little early on days where I had class, as long as I squeezed in my tasks for the day. It was great to have classes to break up the day and give my brain a chance to do something different, and I only very occasionally needed to go back to work to finish something off.
Typical classes at Crawford involved a mix of the primary lecturer and external guest lecturers (world leaders in their fields more often than not), with a tea break halfway through and plenty of class interactions including Q/As, online polls or break-away small group tasks. For bigger classes, tutorials were scheduled just before or after lectures to enable all contact hours for the week to be completed in one block. These tutorials were a chance to do more small group exercises, brainstorm problems or question issues you might not have understood in the lectures. Some of my classes were too small to have separate tutorials and taught instead in seminar mode, which was even better because you had great access to your lecturer.
I should also point out that my degree included some classes which are the opposite of the 'typical' I just described above! For example, in a class called 'Special Topics in Environmental Management and Development' there were more academics than students, and our assessment was to collaborate on researching and writing a publishable journal article. As part of this class I visited the Governor General's residence to participate in a workshop and helped facilitate a two-day conference at the Australian National Academy of Sciences. I also took a subject on environmental policy at the Fenner School of Environment and Society at ANU and participated in an International Alliance of Research Universities summer school called ‘Mobilising Research’ hosted through the ANU School of Engineering. It was great to be able to engage with students from across ANU and other world-leading universities, gaining interdisciplinary perspectives on policy development. Another wildly 'untypical' example was my participation in the Congressional Research Fellowship Program. It’s a testament to Crawford School that they can offer course credit for these sorts of fantastic opportunities while also providing the required rigour and knowledge you need to utilise said opportunities through their more typical core courses.
What characteristics or skills do you hope to gain by completing your course?
Completing my Masters has provided me with a broad academic grounding in the processes, practices, power and institutional issues involved in making public policy. Taking the degree part time while working in this field has allowed me many opportunities to directly translate and compare the theories I covered in class with policy development in reality. I hope - and think - that this degree has made me a much better policymaker.
Will this course be beneficial in your career? Where could you or others in your position go from here? Please explain your answer.
I already have strong evidence that my Masters is benefiting my public service career. It has helped me to better understand the process and context of the policies I have worked on for the federal government. It is widely recognised as a world-class qualification within my field, and since graduating I have used examples from my Masters experience to get me over the line in job interviews.
Completing my Masters has put me in the best position I can be to progress to a doctoral degree. In particular, undertaking a Masters part time has proven to be a great stepping stone to stay across contemporary research developments while applying my learnings in practice and continuing to gain work experience. It has also given me more time to consider my long-term career goals and build confidence that I have the skills necessary to do further study. Since graduating I have applied for a range of international doctoral programs. I have received good offers and I’m still figuring out where and when is the best offer for me. In general, I know my Masters also sets me up well to continue progress a career in the public service, politics or the NGO sector - lots of options to choose from!
What do you love the most about your course?
I loved that studying at Crawford School gives you access to world-leading academics as a matter of course and without being pretentious. In Crawford School, you frequently get set readings or case studies authored by your lecturer, not because they are lazy/arrogant, but because they actually happen to have 'written the textbook' or ‘lived the implementation’ of said policy. It’s fantastic to be able to talk to world experts to seek research and career advice.
What are the limitations of your course?
Studying part time is a bit of a slog and can be isolating as cohorts come and go around you. This is particularly prevalent in Crawford School, as students are about half international full time and half local students who are part time/working. You have to be willing to accept this and be independently motivated.
Which three pieces of advice would you give to a current undergraduate student? They don’t necessarily have to be related to your studies, or even to one’s professional life.