Career Insights: Identifying Role-Models in Your Field


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In our latest Career Insights blog, we chat with several past Career Spotlight interviewees to delve deeper into what makes inspiring role-models in international affairs.

Whichever field you are in, role-models are an important source of guidance and inspiration on how you may best develop professionally and draw a comprehensive roadmap for your career journey. Best of all, there are no limits to the number of role-models you can have. Rather than seeking to find a single person that perfectly matches your career aspirations, it is usually better to identify a number of individuals with key strengths or attributes that you admire and can learn from, creating a pool of inspiration you can draw upon in different circumstances.

Some specialists even suggest that it’s helpful to have role-models that challenge your way of thinking or help you reflect on what you don’t want to become or spend your time on in a few years’ time. Additionally, it’s worth keeping in mind that while you may start by seeking role-models in your workplace or university cohort, it is best to broaden your search beyond these groups. Attending events in your field and arranging follow-up coffee chats or Zoom calls can help you build relationships with both peers and senior figures within your industry.

For some practical tips on how to pick your role-models, check out this blog.

For international affairs in particular, it’s worthwhile to consider diverse career options and meet a wide range of professionals from different corners of the international affairs space – including academics, think tank analysts, journalist, diplomats, cybersecurity analysts and so on. If you are unsure of where to start, LinkedIn is a useful tool for identifying potential role-models, as you can search and connect with university alumni or professionals at a company or country of interest.

As part of our Career Spotlight series, we asked our interviewees to share their most inspiring role-models throughout their careers. Coming from diverse experiences in academia, think tanks, public and private sectors, each of these inspiring international affairs professionals had role-models to guide their career journeys. Their role-models were found from workplaces, universities, or the broader network, and each had an outstanding characteristic that served to inspire or challenge those around them.

Read on to learn more about what inspires fellow professionals in international affairs:


Dr Merriden Varrall - Director of Geopolitics and Tax, KPMG & Non-Resident Fellow, the Lowy Institute


“Two inspiring women in particular stand out, and they have in common a calm, dedicated, and inclusive approach to what they do.

One is my manager when I worked in social policy, in Canberra, Angela Hewson. She took the time to help me do things better. I used to write buzzword bingo-style briefs because I thought they sounded professional. Angela took me aside and gave me a stern talking-to about writing rubbish, and made me read Don Watson's Weasel Words. On many other occasions she wasn't afraid to very kindly but very firmly steer me in the right direction, which helped me develop as a professional, but also hopefully as a manager myself.

In times of professional trouble, I try and remember, WWGMD, 'what would Gillian Mellsop do?'. Gillian was the head of UNICEF in China when I was in Beijing working for UNDP, and she was a wonderful leader. I never worked for her directly, but she was extremely well-regarded, and for good reason. Gillian has that rare quality of professional proficiency and humanity. She knew her subject matter inside out, she was efficient, well-organised, inspiring, dedicated, and brooked no nonsense, but she was never arrogant or dismissive. Gillian is an immensely warm, personable, inclusive and kind person. She was never too busy to have a coffee and listen and give advice when asked for it. For me, that's a great career role model.”

Reg Carruthers – Director of Aerospace and Space at Defence SA/ SASIC.


“It’s almost impossible to answer, as I have worked with so many amazing people. But just to pick one, Sir Angus Houston taught me about the importance of integrity and values in Leadership. He took a genuine interest in his people (the whole air force), worked tirelessly, read everything, would always meet with people from any walk of life and actively listen. He always took a genuine interest in the issue at hand, considered people’s opinions but then made a decision to allow things to move on.”

Tash Jamieson – Global Founders Program Manager at the University of New South Wales (UNSW).


I’ve always been kind of enamoured with Michelle Garnaut, AO. Michelle is not only an internationally renowned restaurateur and business owner, she is also a founder of the Shanghai International Literary Festival, the M Literary Residency, the Village People Project (a charity supporting women’s health in rural China) and has spearheaded Mentor Walks (supporting women’s career mentoring) in both Beijing and Shanghai.

Michelle has this ability to create these truly bohemian spaces where lovers of good conversation and the arts congregate. It doesn’t matter if her clients are Australian, Chinese or French, they all feel they belong when sitting at Glam Bar in Shanghai.

She is also incredibly generous with her time. She truly embodies the principles around micro-giving, and is always supporting local initiatives or groups, and providing advice and guidance to young, upcoming women in China and Australia. Even though she honestly must be one of the busiest women on the planet, when you speak with her, even for just 5 minutes, you feel like she’s so present with everything you have to say.”

Yun Jiang – Director of China Policy Centre, Editor of China Story blog, Senior Research Officer at the Australian National University

“The most inspiring role-model for me is Dr Paul Hubbard, who was my manager at the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Whereas most people in public service wanted me to conform or blend in, he actively encouraged me to speak my mind and dare to be different. He was also good at pointing out implicit rules in the workplace, which is very helpful for someone who is oblivious to social cues as me.

The qualities I admire the most are his intellectual curiosity and his willingness to discuss ideas with others regardless of their positions in the organisation.”

Elise Stephenson, Social Entrepreneur and PhD Candidate

I’ll pick three: my wonderful PhD supervisor and international lawyer and academic, Associate Professor Sue Harris Rimmer, the indefatigable founder of Planet Ally, Bess Hepworth, and my mentor, Jeanne. I admire the fact that all three are brilliant, world-leading best-of-their-kind type of people who have pioneered various different spheres of international affairs. Yet, they are also the kindest, most down-to earth, warm, and genuine people you will meet. They are truly inclusive leaders, which is what our international affairs needs. I also admire them as super wonderful LGBTI+ women or allies in international affairs – as this has been important to my own journey, as well as many around me.”


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