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Career Spotlight: Ly Tran, Professor and Australian Research Council Future Fellow

In our latest Career Spotlight, we are excited to speak with Ly Tran, Professor of International Education at Deakin University and Future Fellow at the Australian Research Council, about her academic expertise in international education and her passion for Australia and Indo-Pacific youth engagement.

A distinguished Asian-Australian and among Australia’s leading researchers in international education, Ly was recognised as one of Vietnam’s 50 Most Influential Women in 2019 by Forbes Vietnam. For several years, she has investigated the impacts of Australian student mobility to the Indo-Pacific, the experiences of international students, and the geopolitics of international education and graduate employability – especially through projects spanning across Australia, Vietnam and China. She has received numerous grants and awards from Aus4Skills, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Australian Research Council. Ly was awarded the the Inaugural Melbourne Asia Game Changer Award for her contribution to enriching Australia-Asia relationship and the Inaugural Shining Star in Research in the Noam Chomsky Global Connection Awards for her original research on international education. Her book, ‘Teaching International Students in Vocational Education: New Pedagogical Approaches’, won the 2014 International Education Association of Australia Excellence Award for Best Practice in International Education.

An expert in the challenges and opportunities facing international students in Australia, and Australian students in the Indo-Pacific through the New Colombo Plan, Dr. Tran has regularly featured as a guest speaker at initiatives promoting international education, even amidst a pandemic. In 2020, she was the plenary speaker at the inaugural Indo-Pacific Student Mobility Youth Dialogue, an innovative initiative of four youth diplomacy associations gathering over 150 students from across Australia, to discuss her empirical research on the benefits of international student mobility.

Your research has identified the major benefits of international student mobility. Have you found any evidence of student mobility facilitating greater employment prospects and professional opportunities for young Australians? What skills does it allow them to develop?

Our national survey of 1,371 New Colombo Plan (NCP) students and alumni from 40 universities provides evidence that student mobility through the NCP increasing knowledge of the Indo-Pacific among young Australians. The key areas of student learning identified include: enhancing the understanding of and confidence in engagement with the region, stimulating connections with Australians of Indo-Pacific background and developing an interest in learning an Asian/Indo-Pacific language. In particular, up to 66% of the NCP students and alumni indicated the mobility experience made them interested in pursuing employment within the Indo-Pacific.

The learning experience also enhances NCP participants’ employment prospects beyond Australia. However, while 89% participating students agreed that the Indo-Pacific learning abroad experience was useful for their resume, only 44% agreed that that it was valued by their current employer. There is a strong correlation between Indo-Pacific learning abroad experiences and region-related career outcomes: The top eight host countries (75% of participants in the NCP research) mirror the top eight countries NCP alumni in this study are working in or with (74% NCP alumni) (Japan, Indonesia, China, Vietnam, Republic of Korea, India, Singapore, Malaysia).

Your research in international education has been widely recognised as world-class and exemplary. What interests you most about your research, and what advice would you give to those interested in potentially pursuing a career in research on Australia-Asia relations?

I am passionate about research in international education because it allows me the opportunity to view the issues in international education from multi-disciplinary perspectives and see the impacts of research. International education is evolving, shifting and increasingly subject to international relations and geopolitics. International education has been used as a vehicle to foster intercultural understandings and empathy, transnational intellectual connections, regional harmony and global engagement. But over the past few years, we have seen how international education has been weaponised, especially due to the rising geopolitical tensions between nation states.

So it’s critical for researchers in this field to look at the nexus of international education, public diplomacy and political science to have nuanced understandings of the changes in student mobilities, transnational education partnerships, international research collaborations and internationalisation at home.

What other opportunities are available for young Australians interested in pursuing a career in the university sector or academia, especially with a focus on international mobility and/or relations?

Young Australians interested in pursuing a career in the university sector or academia may have the opportunity to undertake a Masters by Research or PhD or work as an intern, research assistant or research fellow in research projects. There are different schemes of scholarships and fellowships available for research candidates, funded by the government, specific institutions or co-funded by institutions and professional organisations/industry. For those who are interested in international student mobilities and/or relations, critical areas of research might include the impacts of geopolitics and changes in regional relations on inbound and outbound student mobilities, the geopolitics of transnational education and/or research collaborations, and the nexus of internationalisation at home and international relations. No matter what topic you are interested in pursuing, think about your career trajectory beyond the research degree and start building your employability right after you commence your candidature.

What has been your greatest professional achievement so far? What do you attribute to your success?

My greatest professional achievement is the completion of my PhD. Having given birth to my first child a year into my PhD candidature, my study journey as an international student in Australia was challenging but incredibly meaningful. Juggling motherhood and a PhD in international education made me become more aware of the value of the opportunity to study and was a constant reminder of how to work efficiently. Raising a child alongside my study was inspiring to me as the experience encouraged me to reflect more deeply on what I was doing, its purposes and how to make my study become a meaningful part of my child’s growing up.

The COVID-19 pandemic has unfortunately resulted in increased instances of discrimination against Asian-Australians and international students. What advice would you give to Australians of minority groups in their ambitions for an internationally-oriented career, despite potential feelings of alienation and marginalisation? There are different avenues for young Australians of minority groups to explore and develop an internationally-oriented career that builds on their intellectual, cultural and bi-lingual/multi-lingual capitals. It’s important to build your distinctive strengths and develop a professional portfolio earlier on in your university journey rather than wait until graduation. Be proactive in developing and evidencing this whole person professional portfolio in line with your self-values, strengths, personal needs, family background and taking into account the demands and skills gaps in your professional community in international affairs. It’s worthwhile to seek a mentor and join a professional community so that you can turn to share experiences and seek advice and solidarity. Overall, there is a pressing need to have more coordinated support and investment from different government levels, communities and professional organisations to tackle barriers, prejudices and systemic discrimination facing Asian-Australians and under-represented groups in developing their career in international affairs.


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