'12 years of work and a lot of biscuits' - College Dean shortlisted for prestigious Mackenzie Prize

The College Dean, Professor Helen Sullivan, holds her recently published book.
The College Dean, Professor Helen Sullivan, holds her recently published book.

College Dean, Professor Helen Sullivan, stands proudly with a copy of her shortlisted book. 

Dean of the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific, Professor Helen Sullivan, has been shortlisted for the Mackenzie Prize, an esteemed award that celebrates the distinctive contribution publications have made to advancing Political Studies.  

“I almost shrieked I was so excited. It’s a huge honour,” she said.  

Her book, titled Collaboration and Public Policy: Agency in the Pursuit of Public Purpose, delves into the concept of collaboration between various levels of governance with various actors when considering effective public policy. The book is a product of her wealth of experience in academia and her former life in the public service where she undertook her first collaborative research project between Europe’s largest local government, Birmingham City Council, and the University of Birmingham.  

“The focus of the book is the way in which actors, individuals and groups of people can make change in public policy through collaboration,” she said.  

Professor Sullivan is confident the ideas in her book can promote better public policy in a diverse range of settings.  

“You can use that framework [from the book] to try and understand what is going on and whether you are talking about geopolitics or trade policy or neighbourhood revitalisation. The framework is very applicable.” 

An shelf of Professor Sullivan's new book sits in her office.
An shelf of Professor Sullivan's new book sits in her office.

Upon reflection of her journey at the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific, Professor Sullivan believes her time as current Dean of the College and as former director of the Crawford School of Public Policy  has enhanced the consideration of her research and its application to the region.  

“It was a great opportunity [as director of the Crawford School of Public Policy] to be the leader of the most significant public policy School in Asia and the Pacific, but also to think about my work in the context of Asia and the Pacific,” she said. 

Despite the success of her book, Professor Sullivan acknowledges it was a challenging endeavour. The final publication builds upon 12 years of edits, drafts and development of the concepts and ideas presented in the book. It also reflects a tumultuous journey that has led the Dean across “two continents, four jobs and two periods of serious illness.”   

“This book has really been an example of what you might call slow scholarship and it is a book that is much better as a result. 

“But I wouldn’t recommend taking 12 years to write a book for anybody,” she jokingly added.  

College Dean, Professor Helen Sullivan, sits at her desk.
College Dean, Professor Helen Sullivan, sits at her desk.

As an acclaimed author, researcher and academic, it may come as a surprise to learn that the writing process can be a “painful” pursuit for the College Dean. Through years of practice, trial, and error (amid finding time to write) she has found “getting over the blank page” and embracing imperfection vital to her success.  

“I was one of those people who would never write anything until it was perfect, which meant I never wrote anything for a long time. 

“It is a very difficult process and I’ve gotten better at it as I’ve learnt techniques that help me, but it can be a painful process. 

“I eat a lot of biscuits,” she admitted.  

Although a demanding venture, Professor Sullivan encourages anyone looking for a rewarding career in academia to self-reflect on what is important to them as an individual and always strive for good scholarship.  

“If you want to have a fulfilling academic career, then focus on what you care about and focus on the people you really want to influence to do things better.” 

The winner of the Mackenzie Prize will be announced March 25. The College would like to congratulate Professor Sullivan on her shortlisting and wish her all the best with the outcome of the Prize and the next chapter in her literary endeavours.