Before studying for my PhD, I worked as a lecturer at a public university in Indonesia. The university is part of the country’s Ministry of Industry, which led me to research related to the economics of trade and industry, particularly in Indonesia. Naturally, the university was supportive of an employee pursuing a PhD in economics abroad, particularly in the field I had chosen.
After exploring options for PhD study, I chose the Australian National University (ANU), a globally respected university. The ANU is in Canberra, a relatively quiet city, perfect for a PhD student. But most importantly, it is home to the Indonesia Project, a centre where the best research on Indonesia is being conducted. The Indonesia Project manages one of the most prestigious academic journals on Indonesian studies.
Having set my sights on Australia for my PhD, I needed to find funding because my home university was not particularly well resourced. Luckily, Indonesia is part of the Australia Awards, a scholarship scheme funded by the Australian government. While the Australia Awards in Indonesia (AAI) scholarship is highly competitive, it is also one of the most generous scholarships for Indonesian students. It offers pre-departure training as well as help with the visa and university application process. But the best part is that it funds study to an Australian institution, which is exactly what I was looking for.
Even though I was expecting fierce competition for the scholarship, I was surprised by the strength of the field of candidates. Other applicants had graduated from highly respected universities, had worked on various strategic projects and had a vast network of referees. I decided to just concentrate on the proposal that I, like all the applicants, had to submit. I wrote a practical plan that covered things such as helping with Indonesia’s scholarly output, as well as more strategic contributions such as helping the Ministry of Industry with the national industrialisation plan. I was lucky enough to get the scholarship.
My decision to study at the ANU was the right one. Although I had to again cover some of the basics, I now feel that I understand economics much better than before. More importantly, I could access an invaluable wealth of Indonesia-related research. I learned the various contexts of Indonesia’s contemporary economic, industrial and monetary policies. This understanding helped shape my PhD focus, using the economic theory and empirics for my research.
While in studying in Australia, I worked as well, which allowed me to get to know other communities outside the campus. My favourite job was working as a tutor at the ANU. I helped professors run their tutorial sessions, which consisted mainly of answering problem sets.
My time as a tutor really helped me to realise how far ahead the ANU was compared with my home university. While I taught economics, my students’ disciplines were diverse, ranging from international relations to computer science and philosophy. The students came from many parts of the world, too. I also observed that the level of complexity of courses at the ANU was very different from that at universities back home. I learned a lot, not only gaining technical expertise in every course I tutored but also learning how to teach in a diverse classroom. This experience improved my teaching skills and certainly my confidence, which is a valuable quality for a lecturer in Indonesia.
The ANU has a great support system, for students and tutors alike. For example, my college helped me by providing a short introduction to teaching a diverse classroom. During the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020, my school helped me with work-at-home support and ensured that I had mental health support.
Thinking back, I was lucky to be able to get the scholarship and to win a place at the ANU. I had a good command of English as an Indonesian, so I could concentrate on improving my academic portfolio and my PhD proposal. Diving deep into the professors’ expertise allowed me to find a suitable supervisor, and my experience with diversity helped me to mingle with various communities in Canberra. Of course, it didn’t hurt to have a little luck as well.
Studying at the ANU was the right choice for me, and I highly recommend pursuing a degree in Australia to everyone, especially my fellow Indonesians.
International PhD student Krisna Gupta has written a blog about choosing a university in Australia and how he applied for funding for his PhD