Michele Acuto

Michele Acuto

Course completed in Australia: Master of International Affairs, Master of Diplomacy and PhD in Diplomacy
Institution: Australian National University (ANU)
Current position: Research Director and Senior Lecturer in Global Networks & Diplomacy at the Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy and Director, UCL City Leadership Initiative, University College London

Michele Acuto admits that deciding to study diplomacy in Australia was an unconventional step for an Italian.

“I was looking for a postgraduate education in an English-speaking institution that was highly-regarded in international relations to further specialise my studies in diplomacy,” he says.

The UK and the USA were obvious choices but colleagues at the Institute of International and European Affairs in Ireland with whom Dr Acuto had worked, such as former Irish Finance Minister Alan Dukes, suggested Australia.

It turned out that the Australian National University (ANU) had the ideal course. “It was an almost unique degree worldwide with a combination of international theory and practice that was ideal for my aspirations, which at the time was to enter the international public sector.”

Michele enrolled in a Master of International Affairs at ANU, then went on to complete a Master of Diplomacy and finally a PhD in Diplomacy focusing on ‘cities and global governance’.

The more he studied, the more he found his ideas about his career changing. He credits great teachers, such as Matt Davis, a tutor and lecturer in ANU’s International Affairs program, with making academia seem like “an inspiring and interesting job to do”.

The experience at ANU, he says, led him directly to a Research Fellow position at the University of Oxford. “The passion for critical education demonstrated by some of the ANU faculty members during my Masters, and the chance to do some teaching myself at both undergraduate and graduate levels, convinced me to further pursue an academic career rather than going ‘back to the field’,” he says.

“The possibility I was given during my PhD to investigate a complex topic such as global cities while maintaining a solid grounding in international affairs, as well as the chance to undertake this unconventional study with the help of motivated and challenging supervisors, pushed me to seek a faculty position that was equally interdisciplinary and stimulating.”

Undoubtedly, it changed and shaped my career,” he says of his time at ANU. “By the time I started my PhD, I was hooked on it!” Had he studied in the USA, he believes he would have returned to work in diplomacy. “The environment definitely played a part,” he says. “I liked the Australian way. It was less strict or stiff and there was no layer of bureaucracy. I could actually go and knock on a door and someone would be there willing to have a chat.”

The uniqueness of Australian academia became apparent to Michele on his first few days at ANU when he ventured timidly into the Director of Studies’ office on a blazing hot day and was greeted by a relaxed, smiling, informally-dressed person who invited him to “tag along” for a beer. It was, he says, a complete contrast to the formality and intricacy of the Italian system.

“It was then that I realised that Australia was going to be a watershed change on my expectations, and indeed a great place to be,” he says. “Despite the complexities, setbacks and challenges of two Masters and a doctorate, I have never changed my mind about this special scholarly atmosphere.”

Dr Acuto also had the chance to work at the University of Canberra and to visit academic institutions in Sydney and Brisbane, and says the laid-back attitude and relaxed approach was characteristic. “It was a welcoming and warm place where I was allowed to grow at my own pace while enjoying incredible natural environments and buzzing cities such as Sydney, and where most of the people I met were keen to listen to my Italian-accented English, making it relatively easy to blend into quite a multicultural place.”

Is he glad he undertook these degrees in Australia?

“Without a doubt,” he declares, it was a “high-yielding and highly-regarded place to carry out my postgraduate studies.”