Saskia Hufnagel (Germany) - Australian National University
Course completed in Australia: Master of Laws (LL.M); Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Law
Institution: Australian National University (ANU)
Year: 2003-2004; 2006-2010
Current position: Research Fellow, ARC Centre of Excellence in Policing and Security (CEPS), Griffith University, Australia
German lawyer Saskia Hufnagel had her life mapped out when she decided to do a PhD in Law in Australia. “I wanted to finish it as fast as possible, go back to Germany to be a lawyer and earn lots of money,” she laughs.
Instead Dr. Hufnagel is in Brisbane researching “vulnerable infrastructures” at the ARC Centre of Excellence in Policing and Security (CEPS) at Griffith University. Together with her British political scientist colleague the specialist in comparative law and legal frameworks studies the security infrastructure of airports, surface transport systems, ports, and energy facilities.
“I just never thought I would enjoy research, teaching and organising conferences so much,” she says. “It is very unexpected to me.”
It was work experience with a legal firm in Sydney in 2001 that initially peaked Dr. Hufnagel’s interest in studying in Australia. “I fell in love with Australia,” she declares. So, in 2003 she returned to do her LL.M. at the Australia National University (ANU), drawn by the programme’s specialisation in International Law.
There she got to know Professor Simon Bronitt, her future PhD supervisor who was instrumental in helping her obtain the inaugural National Europe Centre PhD scholarship jointly funded by the ANU and the European Commission. She describes the Centre for European Studies at ANU as one of the “most wonderful, weird and humorous places”, with the mix of Australia and European academics and EU Member State officials making for many an interesting story.
“I loved doing a PhD,” she says. “It was the best experience of my life. I actually miss doing it.
“Australian academics are just so helpful, so personal, so concerned about giving the students a positive experience. You get to know your tutor,” she says, explaining that she never actually spoke with any of her professors in Germany. But then there were 400+ in her class there.
Dr. Hufnagel secured several research positions during her Master’s and, with the support of Professor Andrew Byrnes, even published a study under her own name. “They are generous people academically and very fair,” she says.
She also scored teaching posts during her doctorate and, encouraged by her supervisor, organised a conference based on her PhD topic. “I invited all my ‘footnotes’ and got to know them personally,” she says, confessing how elated she was that academics from Europe and all over came to “my little conference.”
Currently working on a book about policing ‘borderless’ societies, Dr. Hufnagel already plans to do a new study on police cooperation in South-East Asia and Europe as she thinks that a comparison between the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the EU could be beneficial for both entities.
While an avid fan of Australia –“love the country, love the people” – Dr. Hufnagel never imagined it would be home for so long. “In the first year I thought ‘no, no, I’ll go back’,” she says. “In the second year I thought ‘this is quite nice’ then at the beginning of the third year I got a permanent teaching job with the University of Canberra even before finishing my PhD!”
Aside from the work, the things that bind her to Australia are “the people, the space and the freedom”. “It is,” she says, “hard to find more friendly, relaxed and helpful people in the world. This to me is quality of life.
“The country inspires that feeling that everything you do is your choice. You are the master of your own destiny. The space creates a feeling of freedom that I never felt in another country,” she says.
When asked for her greatest achievement while studying in Australia, she puts aside her considerable academic accomplishments and says simply “I became a nicer person”, adding, “I discovered a lot of random kindness. I want to give some of it back.”
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