From Japan to national security and back again

Penny Maher


Japan specialist Penny Maher brims with enthusiasm when she talks about her move to the nation’s capital to take up the Advanced Master of National Security Policy. “Contrary to popular opinion, I actually love Canberra,” she says. “I’m flourishing in the cold, I love the campus life, and I don’t want to go back to Sydney. I’m a converted Canberran!”

Penny’s Bachelor of International Studies included a semester at Tokyo Metropolitan University, for which she was awarded scholarships from both Macquarie University and the Japanese government. Here she mixed Japanese language, politics and culture with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. “In Japan, it’s more popular than Japanese Jiu-Jitsu,” she assures us.

She has also worked for the Japan Foundation Sydney, where she worked on the online journal New Voices in Japanese Studies, and conducted a data analysis of how the Japanese language is studied in Australia. “Basically, we found the difference was that those who were forced to learn the language didn’t, and those who took it up by choice thrived,” she says.

While completing her undergraduate degree and considering postgraduate options one of her tutors, an alumna of the NSC Masters program, told her plainly: “Don’t study security in Sydney – go down to Canberra and get taught by the professionals – the people in Sydney reference the people in Canberra.”

Now fully immersed in campus life, Penny is the Equity Officer for the National Security Students and Alumni Association, where she handles anything from help with job seeking and participation to serious personal crises. In her final semester, Penny is busy shaping the central question of her research sub-thesis: What role does demographics play in the Japanese national security debate?

“It will be about the ageing population, the de-sexualisaton of the youth, the falling birth rate, and the growth in technologies that accommodate the loneliness of people,” she says. “It seems to me that the Japanese government needs to stop looking so much at external defence issues and look inwards to fix these problems because the grim predictions for 2050 are going to be solidified very soon.

“My working title is ‘Guns vs Aged Care’!”, she laughs.

Penny has thrived as a member of the College family and feels that the degree has prepared her well for a career in Australia’s national security sector: “The lecturers are really approachable and knowledgeable. They are open to discussing any questions you might raise. They’re very involved, they care about their students and want them to do well.

“My number one choice is the Australian Federal Police. I’m really interested in the physical protection of our national security, so would love to work in any organisation that actively works to protect the physical security of Australia. I don’t mind sitting at a desk, but I’m an active person, so I’d like to be on the ground, working with people, in operations.”

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Updated:  21 June 2017/Responsible Officer:  Head of College, National Security College/Page Contact:  Web administrator