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Sarah Strugnell

I think if you go into a program like this with an open-mind, you will get so much more out of it.

About you

What's your name?

My name is Sarah Strugnell and I am originally from Melbourne, Australia. I moved to Canberra in July, 2018 as part of the mid-year intake of students at the Crawford School.

What degree are you studying at the Crawford School of Public Policy?

I am one of two students enrolled in the Masters of Public Policy Double Degree Program with the Australian National University and the University of Tokyo, Japan.

What did you study at undergraduate level ?

I completed a Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Arts (First Class Honours) at Monash University. During my undergraduate studies, I studied Food, Medical and Industrial Microbiology in Malaysia, German in Germany, and Japanese language, anthropology and culture in Japan. My studies overseas would not have been possible without a Japan Foundation Scholarship, a Japan Student Services Organisation (JASSO) Scholarship, and two Monash Yoshida Scholarships for Academic Excellence.

As an undergraduate student, university life became a huge part of my life – I worked on campus in numerous roles supporting students, spent hours every week volunteering with the Welfare Department, and advising students about overseas exchange options through my role as Student Experience Coordinator at Monash Abroad. In my final weeks as an undergraduate student, I was selected as a Victorian Government Hamer Scholar to Japan for the following year.

Where are you currently working and what is your job title?

Before I left Melbourne, I was working for a large Japanese company. Whilst I really enjoyed working there, I knew that I had to continue onto postgraduate studies if I wanted to become an academic. During my first few weeks in Canberra, I became a Project Officer at the Australia-Japan Research Centre. Working for such an important research organisation within the ANU reaffirms to me how much I want to continue along the path to academia. The nature of my work changes from week to week, however, I am generally involved with organising the logistics of large-scale events and symposiums in Japan, and preparing grant submissions.

About your course

What made you decide to apply for the Crawford School?

When I was living in Japan in 2017 as part of the Hamer Scholarship Program, I was on a train going from my host family’s house to university. While I was scrolling through Twitter, I saw that the ANU’s Crawford School of Public Policy had signed a Double Masters partnership with the University of Tokyo. Without even really knowing what ‘public policy’ was, I applied to the ANU! I had been to the ANU in 2016 as part of Asia Pacific Week (APW), which is an annual conference held at the ANU for 100 leaders from around the world engaging in the Asia-Pacific region. Thanks to APW, I had a general idea about the campus. Looking back on it now, it was a really big risk, but it has certainly helped me to approach things from a whole new angle.

How did you choose your particular further study course (compared to others)?

After applying directly to the Crawford School, I went along to a number of other information nights for postgraduate study in Melbourne, but I was completely sold on the idea that I could potentially graduate with two masters degrees from two different internationally renowned universities. Despite what people say about Canberra, it is arguably the place to be for anyone interested in studying policy and government.

This year I was selected for the Young Australians in International Affairs Young Leaders Series, which enabled me to go to places such as the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) to hear from some of Australia’s key policymakers in the Asia-Pacific Region.

Were you weighing up any alternative degrees or career pathways before choosing this qualification?

I find that most students who want to travel down the path of working in higher education do honours and then do a PhD, especially in the field of science. Although I have always wanted to do a PhD in the future, I was motivated to keep my options open. My undergraduate honours thesis combined my interest in science and my dedication to Japanese language and culture, to closely look at alcohol consumption in Japan. A masters degree to add the policy-side of alcohol consumption seemed like an interesting way to frame my research. Doing a masters degree will help me to broaden my academic and professional networks, study with a hugely diverse and experienced cohort here at the Crawford School, and gain first-hand experience working for a key research organisation.

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

I applied directly to the Crawford School using their online application system, which specifies that applicants also need a minimum grade-point average (GPA) of 5.0 out of 7.0. Once I was accepted, during the first year of the program I needed to push myself academically to then apply for admission into the Double Degree Program. I was also required to submit a CV and a professional reference letter.

What does your study involve? Can you describe a typical day at the Crawford School?

I have a lot of morning lectures and afternoon tutorials this semester, so my day is a lot longer than last semester. I try to break up my day by going to work for a few hours and coming back to Burgmann College for lunch. Postgraduate students living at Burgmann do not typically eat at the dining hall, but it is something I decided to do to meet undergraduate students and take a break from study. My travels and studies abroad made me realise how much value I place on eating in a social setting – surrounded by people engaging in deep conversations.

After lunch I usually go to the Menzies Library on campus to study. I prefer the Menzies Library because it is quiet and there are lots of books focusing on the Asia-Pacific. In the late afternoon I go back to Crawford to attend tutorials. What I like the most about Crawford is how close the cohorts are, even though the students come from vastly different backgrounds. Having so many points of view in a classroom is invaluable.

In my spare time in the evenings after studying, I like to help students find and apply for various opportunities, such as scholarships, internships and overseas programs. One of the hardest things for undergraduate students these days is entering a hugely competitive job market after university. Most of the time is not always about the outcome, but about the journey you take along the way.

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

I know that I will look back on my time at Crawford and see it as an important juncture in my learning that allowed me to formally join my background in science with my interest in language and cultural studies. I have gained a greater understanding of how contentious policymaking is, and the importance of applying critical thinking skills to policy programs that claim to impact the lives of citizens. My background in science and the humanities, as well as languages, has been invaluable for looking at policy from so many different complex angles. I think if you go into a program like this with an open-mind, you will get so much more out of it. The Crawford School has a vibrant group of brilliant students who will teach you a great deal about how you grapple with conflicting values.

Pros and cons

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

As someone who hopes to have a long career in higher education, I know this course has been absolutely beneficial.

What do you love the most about your course? 

The people. From the academic and administrative staff to the close cohorts, the Crawford School is an exciting place to study. The Crawford School has its own Academic Skills Advisors who are always there to keep you on the right track and help you towards setting your own academic goals (whatever they may be!). 

What are the limitations of your course?

Although there are electives towards the end of your degree that allow you to undertake original research and write a thesis, I think this should be a compulsory part of the degree.