Rita Bull is one of the outstanding individuals recently awarded a National Intelligence Community and National Security College Scholarship for Women.
Rita reflects on how her career aspirations have evolved over time and how her keen interest in cyber security helped jumpstart her passion to pursue a career in the national security field.
Thank you for your time, Rita. When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Since a very young age, I wanted to be in law enforcement, either in the police or in the military. I’ve always wanted to serve and protect my community. However, having no family history or background in law enforcement, I wasn’t sure if that was what I really wanted to do. I didn’t have a mentor in the field, so I was undecided.
As I started schooling, I then became interested in pursuing a career in teaching. I wanted to teach mathematics in high school. I used to be a student prefect, where I had the opportunity to mentor and teach younger students and this is probably what sparked my interest in teaching. I had made my decision but then after listening and learning from some of my teachers who talked about the vast experiences they had before they started teaching, I felt that I had so much to learn and explore in life.
I enjoyed working with numbers, investigating, analysing and problem solving so I decided to do something where I could use my skillset to add value and make a positive impact in our community. I leaned towards a career in forensic accounting and fraud investigations, something that is challenging, varied and gave me a sense of purpose and achievement.
What did you study for your undergraduate degree?
I did a Bachelor of Commerce specialising in professional accounting. After a couple of years of experience in the field, I obtained my Chartered Accountant membership. I then went on to complete a Master of Commerce specialising in financial crime and governance. Following this, I obtained the Certified Fraud Examiner credentials.
What first got you interested in the field of national security?
It is a long story, but my interest started when I took a cybercrime subject whilst studying for the Master of Commerce degree. I had no technical cyber security or IT background. It was all new to me, but very quickly I got fascinated with how it was connected to financial crime and fraud. I wanted to explore more and hence when the opportunity came to undertake cyber security studies through the ADF Cyber Gap Program in 2020, I took it and completed the Graduate Certificate in Cyber Security.
Whilst studying cyber security, I undertook a unit called cyberwarfare and terrorism. It was again very new and different. It made me think about the broader consequences of criminal activities conducted in the cyber space, the various networks, actors, and impacts on individuals, businesses, communities and the country. Whilst globalisation and technological advancements have brought many opportunities, we sometimes do not realise that it has also brought challenges and threats. This is actually what sparked my interest in the field of national security.
Do you have any specific areas of interest?
I am interested in learning more about cyber security and the opportunities and challenges it poses to our country. What can we do to mitigate the risks and threats in a more timely and proactive manner? How do we protect our critical infrastructure and critical assets from cyber criminals? How do we ensure the safety of those who are more vulnerable in our community?
How do you think Australia is currently placed with regards to cyber?
From my understanding and perspective, I believe Australia is heading in the right direction in terms of its cyber security policy. We have a cyber security strategy which is a good start and we have established an Australian Cyber Security Centre which leads the government’s effort in cyber security. It’s now about ensuring that we have the necessary resources, capabilities, knowledge, cooperation and infrastructure in place to deliver on the government’s cyber security policies.
Are there any courses or themes you have particularly enjoyed learning about so far while studying the Master of National Security Policy?
I am studying part time and am currently in my second semester of studies, so I still have a fair way to go — but so far, I have enjoyed the subjects I have undertaken. I found studying history for policymakers intriguing. It gave me a good perspective on the background of various national security issues such as contested territories and how it is relevant in understanding what it is happening in the South China Sea today. I think I’ve now come to appreciate history as a discipline more than I used to.
The good thing about this degree is that it covers various subjects and themes so you can choose to study what interests you most. There are also short 3-unit intensive subjects which gives you an opportunity to take a deep dive into a particular topic. Additionally, you get to hear and learn from some experienced leaders and scholars.
Do you have any advice for women who are considering applying for the National Intelligence Community and National Security College Scholarship for Women?
I would definitely encourage you to apply. One thing I have learnt from my studies so far and from the guest speakers is that you don’t need to have an intelligence or security background. I think coming from an accounting and finance background I was initially nervous — but having a positive attitude, growth mindset, and natural curiosity is keeping me engaged and wanting to learn more every day. This is a great opportunity for women to study national security policy with a generous scholarship that covers your tuition fees. Plus, the application process is quite straightforward with support available if you need to speak to someone.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Leading a high-performing team in researching, analysing and solving our country’s critical national security issues. I’d like to apply my skills and knowledge in a more practical way whilst also sharing my expertise with the broader national security community and adding as much value as I can to the national security field.
All the best with your studies, Rita. And thanks for your time!
Interested in applying for the National Intelligence Community and National Security College Scholarship for Women? Expressions of interest can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.