Crawford School PhD scholars Hanh Nguyen and Steve Thomas with Khalid Koser (centre).

The space between

10 April 2014

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The HC Coombs Policy Forum is a strategic collaboration between the Australian Government and ANU, at Crawford School of Public Policy. It focuses on supporting policy-relevant exploratory and experimental work at the interface between government and academia.

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A future where people could work in an entrepreneurial space spanning academic research and policymaking was almost unimaginable a few years ago.

However organisations like the HC Coombs Policy Forum at Crawford School and some trailblazing academics have been instrumental in creating this new middle ground, and bridging the divide between research and policy.

On April 4, Crawford PhD students had a private meeting with Dr Khalid Koser, Deputy Director of the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, and one of the academics who crafted a career that ignores the traditional professional silos.

Koser, who was at ANU as a guest of the HC Coombs Policy Forum, argued that if your goal is to make a difference there were three potential career paths: applied researcher; a researcher in the policy world; or an entrepreneur.

“I think you can be an entrepreneur; it is possible to find a position which uses your academic credentials and have policy relevance,” Dr Koser said.

“I think a mixed career is the way to do this meaningfully and realistically.”

With positions that span academia including editor of the Journal of Refugee Studies, working with think-tanks including the Brookings Institute and Chatham House, and chair of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Migration, Dr Koser has carved a career niche across the barriers.

In a wide-ranging discussion, Dr Koser touched on the ethical issues that have arisen during his career, the enthusiasm and ‘rejuvenating’ qualities he finds in mentoring students, and insights into ways advocates could have more influence and impact.

He also gave three clear tips to the students on making their work relevant.

“There are three things academics find difficult when they’re working with policy: One is language - you’ve got to communicate clearly,” he said.

“Two is being concise. The first question I ask at a PhD defence is: tell me in one sentence what your research is – what is your message?

“Three – and it is hard to do this – be brave enough to make a claim: what do you think?”

Dr Koser stressed the importance of taking opportunities as they arise and getting the PhD finished.

“Be as effective and efficient as possible and get it done and move onto the rest of your life. It doesn’t have to be perfect,” he said.

“Take the opportunities – (it is great) to have the opportunity to have a discussion with someone who has been through some of the pain.”

Second year Crawford School of Public Policy PhD Scholar Steve Thomas said the discussion has helped him to see how the academic and policy worlds can better relate to one another.

“It was especially helpful for learning what kind of research might be useful for policymakers, and how to communicate advice to policymakers well so they are more likely to take it on board,” he said.

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