Philomena Murray is Professor in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne. She holds the only Personal Jean Monnet Chair in Australia, awarded by the European Union.
Prior to her appointment at Melbourne she worked as a diplomat and in the European Parliament. Her research career has focused on the politics of the European Union and Australia’s relationship to it, resulting in a significant publications record including two major monographs.
She also works on EU-Asia Pacific relations; refugee policy and comparative regional governance. She is a founder and co-convenor of Academics for Refugees, a group that advocates for humane policies for asylum seekers and refugees in Australia. She currently leads a research project on the externalisation of refugee policies in Europe and Australia.
My research focuses on the politics of the European Union. I started off being interested in the idea of the European Union as a peace project. This appealed to me because of the role that nationalism has played throughout the history of Europe. I studied at the College of Europe in Bruges, and then worked for a member of the European Parliament for a year before completing my PhD in Florence at the European University Institute. Following my PhD, I became a diplomat: I was based first in Dublin working on European issues and then I was posted to Paris.
I won an Australian Teaching and Learning Council award for introducing the first curriculum on the European Union in Australia. At the time what I was doing was new research, so it was about trying to carve out a path for study of the European Union in Australia. Because I'd been a diplomat and had worked in the European Parliament and European Commission I was able to tell students the stories. There was not only a theoretical component, important as theory is, but very much an empirical one as well, using lots of examples. My background hopefully contributed to provide a sense that I had the texture of what happened in diplomacy, what happened in interstate negotiations in the European Union. I loved to share that in a way that I certainly felt was special and useful for the students.
Students have come to me years later to say how they remember the examples I gave them. These were more than anecdotes; they were used for a teaching purpose. But that teaching-research nexus is important. Through my research I won the first European Union Competitive Grants in Australia, which allowed me to involve more scholars in research projects. I got my PhD students involved as well as early career academics. I felt that I was launching a new research and teaching pathway here in Australia.
In my research mentoring I encourage people to apply for EU grants and establish international research networks, to step out and look for other types of research opportunities and to keep pushing to make sure that they are valued within the school, the department, the university, as well—that they do get that recognition.
In terms of my research impact, I've developed with others the concept of Australia and the UK being “awkward partners” in their regions. That has already had an impact as the subject of a new book by researchers on Scandinavia on how they are also awkward in their regional belonging. Additionally, I’ve tried to bring about policy impact, although it is a challenge, on refugee issues here in Australia as a co-convenor of Academics for Refugees.
Trying to make sure that you get enough time to research is a challenge common to many scholars. Because I was setting up new curriculum on the European Union and related issues, it meant dedicating considerable time to creating new programs. I had to try quite hard to also keep up to date with my research.
I had two very good mentors in my earlier years at Melbourne, both. One of them gave me really good advice when I was trying to deal with a particular colleague who I had thought it was important to try and build a relationship with. My mentor said, "No. It's not going to work. Walk away from it." And actually that was really good advice!
The second one saw herself as my "no" coach. She said to me, " when I'm not around, you're to look in the mirror and practise saying 'no.'" And I've passed that on to my mentees. My son was pretty ill when he was young, and this mentor helped me to see that it was okay to take time off and not feel bad about it.
Advice to Younger Women
Particularly for women it's important to be able to name our ambition; to say, "This is my dream, this is what I want to achieve”. Finding good mentors is something that I would advise, as scholars work towards a position of research leadership. Find somebody who is going to help you through a particular phase in your career. I think things have changed quite considerably for women in the last few decades but that doesn't mean that they don't need more support.
Overall, I’d say “to your own values be true.” Our values matter and we should work as closely as possible to our core values and our core principles rather than against them or compromising them. That means sometimes saying things that might not be popular with the government of the day or perhaps part of the hierarchy within an institution. But I think we are better people knowing that we have supported an issue or fought a fight that we think is worth fighting.