Prof. Cassandra Star
Cassandra Star is an Associate Professor of Public Policy in the College of Business, Government and Law at Flinders University. She leads the climate and sustainability policy research (CASPR) group and is the Research theme leader on Democratic Futures for Flinders Government.
My broad research expertise is in the politics of climate change and climate change has always been the thread throughout my education and university history. When I was a naïve 18-year-old studying a Bachelor of Science degree I thought I could become an atmospheric chemist and solve climate change, which at that stage was only beginning to have a bit of a public and political profile as an issue. In my third year, not far into studying a course on environmental policy I had a light bulb moment where I realised that the climate change problem isn’t a scientific one. You can come up with a solution or a fix for climate change, but it doesn’t mean anything if you can’t convince people to do it. That’s when I started moving into the politics and policy world. For me, all policy is political.
My PhD investigated environmental policy on the international stage. The focus was on climate change, how we are conceiving more of an understanding of it, global cooperation problems in international relations, and is that accurate and appropriate, and does that move us towards solutions or not? In short, the answer was and still is no. That’s what got me more interested in the domestic policy context as the international politics was (and is) largely dysfunctional. So now there are two parts to my work. They are both at the intersection between the politics and policy and how we formulate effective policy, but also what groups are putting pressure on or are trying to impact the formulation of good policy in climate change.
The other focus of my work is on the role of non-government organisations, such as the environmental movement, and how do they attempt to impact the policy formulation process? Are they effective at doing so and what they do that is more or less effective? That's the focus of what I'm working on, as well as the climate policy side investigating approaches to climate adaptation and climate resilience.
I've won two national teaching awards, and that was quite amazing, especially the one that's for my own personal individual teaching contribution. That was focused on the ability or the drive to have students see the political in their own lives, emphasising that they make individual choices or choices as small groups which they might not necessarily originally think of as political. However, all of those things that we do or that we don't do are all political expressions and political actions. I'm always very proud when my PhD students submit, complete and then move on to their own careers and trajectories. I've also been grateful to work on research projects that I think are worthwhile, and that I care about. I've done some work on women's leadership in the public sector, which I'm very proud of, looking at how women in the Indonesian public sector can be supported, to be more prominent leaders in that space.
I'm currently doing research with colleagues on two different projects, on environmental policy for the Department of Defence. Beyond that I have a book coming out which has been a labour of love. It's a longitudinal project across three countries, and it is work that you don't get to necessarily do in academia often. It's 300 interviews over 15 years, with climate movement activists in Australia, the US, and the UK. It's not the first book and it's not the only book that will come out of that research, but it's a really interesting one looking at how the climate movement has commenced and evolved in that period of time across those countries.
Impact And Legacy
On the policy side I would like to think that governments or non-government organisations look at what's been proposed in my work and it to be taken up by the practitioners. I regularly give talks to these audiences about my research. Some of the climate adaptation work I've done in the developing world and the critiques that we offered, and the potential ways forward to improve democratic voice and the needs of local people into climate adaptation policy and climate adaptation programs have been picked up in the practitioner world.
On the environment movement side, it would be similar: environment movements looking at the research that I've done and thinking about what I say about effectiveness in terms of influence on policy formulation and applying that in their strategies and their campaigns. I think those would be two obvious areas for impact.
Being in a discipline that is male dominated presents some challenges for women to navigate. I'm not saying they're impossible to navigate, but it requires some strategic thinking, and some understanding of who and what you really want to be as an academic. It requires careful thinking about how you might achieve those goals within the constraints of the discipline’s nature and balancing other elements of your life. Early in my career, I worked in a teaching intensive institution and that was a significant challenge to maintain a research agenda which would enable an exit strategy. It was a very intense period of work to be able to meet the requirements of the job and maintain my research.
Advice For Younger Women
I think one of the interesting things for women in particular is this internalisation of the impostor syndrome. I guess the advice that I would give is (almost) everybody has it. It's not just you. The men just don't talk about it. So, don't be doubting yourself and you are good enough. That job that you think you're not good enough for, apply for it anyway. Because women are more likely not to do those things. I wish that people and mentors talked about that more and we can become clearer with female academics that this is just standard. I was reading something about how impostor syndrome isn't individualised. It's not an individual thing, it is a feature of the system and that resonated. Because the feedback that you get is, "Yeah, this is okay but what about doing more?". The institutional messages that we get reinforce this idea, constantly, all the way through our careers. I think that the main difference is that male academics have mentors who've encouraged them to ignore doubt and just go for it anyway, whereas women are more cautious. I think that that does have a cumulative impact across career for a lot of women.