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Crawford School of Public Policy

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Stephen Priest

I finally decided to take the plunge after looking at the courses on offer.

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’m Stephen Priest, Assistant Director at the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development. I studied Bachelor of Asia-Pacific Studies / Bachelor of Laws (Hons) (ANU), graduating in 2012, followed by the Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice in 2013 (ANU). I am now studying a Masters of Public Policy while working full time.

What have been the most important stages of your life?

I grew up in Sydney, moved down to Canberra for university, competed in various law mooting competitions and then was meant to go to Japan for the Year in Asia but Fukushima happened. Started an associateship with a Judge instead, then into the public service, mostly in public sector reform.

How did you get to your current (or most recent) job position and how long have you been working there?

I was headhunted for this position at Infrastructure by a former boss. I have been in this position since October 2017.

What made you decide to progress with further study?

I’d spent three years collecting experience in developing public policy at work, but felt a little unsatisfied. I was unsure whether my experience was unique, or could be described by theory. I finally decided to take the plunge after looking at the courses on offer.

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 debated for years whether I was going to take a further qualification in law or public policy. Laws seemed more flexible, while public policy seemed like a career-long commitment to the public service. I’ve always considered going into practice and tried to make choices in my career that keep that option open and flexible. For me, I eventually made the final decision after working on the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 (Cth) and been fascinated by the policy network established to enable the legislation.

What was the process to get accepted into your course? What were the prerequisites?

Truth be told, I can’t remember how I applied for the Masters – I think it was through UAC? I made contact with the Crawford School of Public Policy, who were really fantastic and made the whole process incredibly easy. The Masters of Public Policy is a two year full time degree, but credit can be awarded in recognition of prior experience. For me, one year of credit was awarded in recognition of my work experience, associateship and honours degree.

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?)

I work full time so I’m taking one course every semester. Work is good about it – they are fully supportive and give me time off when I need it to get to class. I find the reading load is a lot more manageable with one course at a time. Generally I do my readings in the evenings.

What characteristics or skills do you hope to gain by completing your course?

The real skills I hope to pick up through the Masters of Public Policy are a more sophisticated understanding of the opportunities and limitations of policy development in Government. There’s also some more modern public service skills – like design thinking, systems thinking – which I’m hoping to polish up on too.

Will this course be beneficial in your career? Where could you or others in your position go from here? Please explain your answer.

I believe this will be beneficial to my career, as a better basis for understanding the hooks and levers available in crafting public policy. I know colleagues who have taken similar courses and raved about it, and that’s been my experience too. The Masters of Public Policy is broad enough to enable me to pivot should that be where my career takes me – the public service no longer has a monopoly on policy development and advice, so I’m confident the Masters is flexible enough to allow me to take on related work too.

What do you love the most about your course?

I love the calibre of the professional staff most. I’ve had courses with established public policy professionals – Professor Carsten Daugbjerg and Professor Robert Breunig – who are active in the sector and out there commenting on the issues. It has been a truly great experience.

What are the limitations of your course?

The limitations of the course are limitations of the study area, I think. Public policy theory appears to “explain everything....until it explains nothing”, which can be quite frustrating when trying to draw lessons about the normative applications of the theory.

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.

The three pieces of advice I’d give are:

First, learn how to learn. There’s heaps of good MOOCs/courses that will teach you how to quickly process and retain knowledge. This is something that nobody really teaches, but there’s a heap of techniques that will get you the same result but cut your effort in half.

Next, use the extra time to develop your skills. Clubs and societies are a great place to start to hone these general skills. These are what will make you employable than your peers.

Lastly, do the readings. Not because you’ll get a better mark (you will). But because managing that amount of reading is a core part of keeping up-to-date in most professions.