In this Career Spotlight, we have the unique opportunity to gain insight from Dr. Zac Rogers, Research Lead at the Jeff Bleich Centre for the US Alliance in Digital Technology, Security, and Governance at Flinders University, about his dynamic career in academia and research concerning international affairs and emerging security challenges.
Dr. Zac Rogers is the Research Lead of the new Jeff Bleich Centre (JBC) at Flinders University, founded by former US Ambassador to Australia: his excellency Jeffrey Bleich. Zac currently leads a defence/academic collaborative project exploring the impact of digital transformation from infrastructure to the human/computer interface on Australia’s national security, interests, defence planning, and strategy.
Zac completed a Bachelor of International Studies with Honours at Flinders University in 2013 before undertaking his PhD wherein he analysed the effects of military-technical developments in network-centric warfare and the notion of “information dominance” on Australia-Japan-US security relations. His research highlighted the need for organisational adaptability given a rapidly transforming geopolitical environment in consideration of the strategic implications of these trends across the Pacific.
Zac currently conducts strategic research in collaboration with the Department of Defence’s Science and Technology Group, and he is a regular contributor to the Lowy Institute’s ‘Interpreter’ series. Moreover, his publications feature across several other foreign affairs and international security journals, including International Affairs, Cyber Defense Review, Australian Quarterly, Communications Law, Joint Force Quarterly, and more. Zac also has experience in academic teaching at both Flinders University and the University of Adelaide. His research has been recognised for its excellence through several awards and prestigious commendations.
Going back to the beginning of your career, can you tell us more about what you studied at university and what drew you to a career in academia?
I majored in International Relations and Politics in my undergrad degree, then went on to do honours in IR. That progressed into my PhD which explored the strategic implications of digital information and communication technologies in military affairs, focusing on the Western Pacific. More than anything else, it was the enjoyment and satisfaction I get from doing meaningful research that drew me into academia.
You’ve had a fascinating career working as a researcher in cyber security and Australia-US alliance relations. What is a day in the life of a Jeff Bleich Centre researcher like?
I have a very unpredictable type of work-life – but greater flexibility is the pay-off. I have multiple projects running concurrently, whether that be formal peer-reviewed publishing work, informal community engagement and communication pieces, industry and government consulting and advising, lecturing and education outreach, or multimedia projects, which are an increasing part of my workday. This means that periods of very intense activity are intertwined with periods of less intensity, where I try to take the chance to read some of the pile of books on my shelf.
Why is consideration of the cyber world and its associated threats increasingly important for those interested in, and indeed seeking careers within, global affairs and international security?
Cyberspace and digital technologies are an integral aspect of anything to do with global affairs and international security, not only because they have become part of every-day life over the past two or three decades, but also because they have significant political and strategic implications. The digital age is a big experiment. It was largely invented, deployed, and scaled by the United States, but it is global and what many overlooked in its early days was how every distinct socio-cultural setting would produce and reproduce its own version. Technology is not neutral, it does not simply manifest human intentions. But neither is it deterministic, it does not unfold in any predetermined manner. We say that digital technology is protean – it throws up all sorts of unexpected implications. That is why it is not an exaggeration to say technology has a type of agency in international affairs which is often missed by more traditional accounts.
What has been your greatest professional achievement so far?
A PhD is a massive achievement. But professionally I think working with government and industry to find real world solutions to new and novel problems is where my passion lies.
Finally, what advice would you give to students and young professionals looking to pursue a career in international affairs?
Be obsessed with the subject matter – all experts share this trait. Your determination to understand and discover is the thing that will drive your career forward. And surround yourself with other people like this. Sharing knowledge and learning, and the relationships you make as a result, is the real foundation of any career.