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Early Graduates in IR: Joe Fulwood

In this career spotlight we have the pleasure of speaking with 2022 master's graduate and current Research Project Officer and Marketing and Communications Manager Joe Fulwood about his journey from academia to the professional world, his passion for global equity and sustainability, and his work in cybersecurity.

Joe Fulwood is a Research Project Officer and the Marketing and Communications Manager at the Oceania Cyber Security Centre. He is an experienced Pacific cyber development specialist having worked to conduct cybersecurity capacity maturity reviews for Pacific island countries and deliver the inaugural Pacific Cyber Capacity Building and Coordination Conference (P4C) in Fiji. Joe has a passion for sustainability that was nurtured through his time as a Wattle Fellow and a member of the 60th United Nations Graduate Study Program in Geneva.

He holds a Master of International Relations from the University of Melbourne and a dual bachelor in Social Science and Arts, majoring in International Development from the University of Queensland. 

Going back to the very start of your career, what did you study at university and when did you graduate? As you approached your graduation in the final year of your undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, how did you prepare for it and what emotions did you experience?

I studied an undergraduate in Arts and Social Sciences and a Master in International Relations at the Universities of Queensland and Melbourne respectively. I studied these back-to-back so it really felt like one large continual experience. When I started my master's, which I conceptualised as my final years of uni, I planned to get as much concurrent industry experience as I could so that when I graduated I’d have both practical and academic skills. My emotions at that time were split between the excitement of pursuing my goals and coming close to graduating, and existential dread that this “arts” degree wouldn’t land me a job. Leaving high school I was driven by a passion for international politics and travel, but had faced a lot of pressure to pursue a more “employable” degree. This had resulted in seven years of accumulated anxiety that in that time close to graduation motivated me to develop as much extra-curricular and work experience as possible. 

What experiences or moments helped you identify your passion in international affairs, and how did you pursue it throughout and after university?

When I was growing up my mum used to sponsor a refugee family on Nauru through World Vision and that inspired a lot of conversations in our household about Australia’s place in the world and the ability we have as a country to make it a better palace, or not. Her empathy towards unknown people from around the world highlighted to me the vastly different circumstances different people in different countries lived in and I’ve been captivated by global affairs ever since. During university, this led to studying abroad so I could meet people from different countries and cultures and was informed by decisions to focus on international relations. After university, I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to work in an international development role which allows me to pursue my passion for global equity and sustainability on a daily basis. 

What motivated you to join the Oceania Cyber Security Centre, and how has your role there evolved since you first joined?

I started at the OCSC as an at-home intern during COVID-19 doing a 3-month desktop research project on the international donor environment. I was drawn to the company initially because I found it fascinating that a cyber company was looking for someone with a social science skill set. At the time I thought cyber was all coding and hackers, but now I know it’s that attitude that got us into the current cyber mess to begin with. I knew I wanted to stay as soon as I started my internship. The research and reviews performed by the capacity building team were the perfect intersection between international development, policy work and qualitative research I was looking for. It also didn’t hurt that they were a not-for-profit and therefore weren’t driven by profit motives. From that moment on I worked hard to stay and years later I’m still here as a full member of the capacity building team and the marketing and communications manager.  

Tell us more about your responsibilities and your typical workday of a Research Project Officer and Marketing Communications Manager!

What I love about my job is that every day I might be doing something completely new. If we are preparing for a mission to a country, I could be doing desktop research on anything from the national legal framework, to school curriculums, to what people are posting on social media. From a comms perspective, I may be creating the mission’s comms strategy, writing press releases or blogs, or even drafting social media posts. If we’re in a country collecting data, I will be conducting focus groups of that country’s cyber stakeholders and then analysing and transcribing that data beginning to write the research report. We have a small team which requires everyone to be dynamic and ready to tackle new challenges. Last year we even organised a 100+ person conference, so you never know what's around the corner and what responsibility you’ll have next. 

Lastly, can you share some tips on how you managed the transition from university to the professional world?

As I mentioned above, I like to think that I took baby steps from university into professional life over a number of years by slowly increasing the number of internships, fellowships and leadership development opportunities I was undertaking. In the beginning, I focused purely on studying and making the adjustment from high school. Then I went on my year studying abroad, started to develop experiences with different cultures and learned a bit about what it was like to live in a new place far away from my support network. When I returned, I applied for unpaid internships and slowly built my resume up so that by the time I was finishing my master's I was already in my current role. This slow transition took me from someone with little work routine or even an appetite for professional life, to someone who barely even noticed the transition between university and work. 


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