Doug Allan’s PhD journey: The rigours, reality and reflection

Image: Dr Douglas Allan (ANU, RegNet)
Image: Dr Douglas Allan (ANU, RegNet)

Being a parent, while working full time and pursuing your PhD is no easy feat. Doug Allan did it all and this week, he will be walking across the stage in the 2022 ANU graduation ceremonies. A valued member of the RegNet community with an extensive background in law enforcement and fraud investigations, we caught up with Doug to hear about his ‘not-your-average’ and fascinating PhD journey at ANU.

Doug has been working for Charles Sturt University, based in Canberra for over 10 years. In addition to his role as an Associate Head of School, his work focuses primarily on financial crimes, while also working collaboratively with terrorism scholars to unpack the tradecraft of terrorists. Prior to that, Doug worked with UK universities that delivered police education degrees. The thought of having a PhD never really crossed his mind in the UK as competition for jobs in police higher education was lesser than other academic disciplines where a PhD is necessary to get a foot in the door.

After moving to Australia it became clear to him that if he wanted to stay in academia and further develop his career, he needed to give serious consideration to the completion of a PhD. The choice of supervisor was crucial to him and he was excited at the prospect of having Professor Roderic Broadhurst as his supervisor at RegNet.

“Ultimately, I was very honoured to be offered a position at RegNet, and if I’m honest about it, I spent a fair amount of time afterwards pinching myself to make sure I wasn’t imagining it,” he said.

Doug’s interest in financial crimes came about during his early days working as a law enforcement officer.

“As for why financial crime, well if you asked my original Detective Sergeant (DS), that was because I couldn’t keep my mouth shut,” he explained.

“You see, in that detective’s office, no one liked doing fraud cases, and so one day when my DS was attempting to manually tally the sums of several frauds out loud, I couldn’t help myself and I started calling out the answers (I was always good with sums).

“He got sick of that, glared at me, then told me to mind my own business. The thing was, the following morning, when I got into the office, my desk was literally covered in a foot or more of fraud files the others in the office didn’t want to deal with, and well the rest was history!”

Having worked in law enforcement, and then law enforcement education for over 20 years, certain things have become very clear to Doug over time, which formed the basis of his PhD research. The first was that law enforcement officers knew a great deal more about the fraudsters and their crimes, than that which made it into a brief of evidence, prosecution file, or court case. The second was that some of that knowledge was also missing from the academic literature.

“The basis for the thesis grew from a very basic and, as I see it, a very logical premise, that being: for a fraudster to commit a complex financial crime, the first thing they needed to do was gain access to the financial system they sought to target,” he explains.

“Next, they needed to understand how that system worked, not only how it worked normally, but also how it responded to illicit incursions. Then they needed to plan their crime in a way that limited the chances of detection, before finally implementing it.”

Doug’s thesis, Financial crime tradecraft: a critical study of the mechanics of financial crime, contributes to understanding of the tradecraft of fraudsters who commit complex financial crimes. His research, which received high praise from examiners, offers financial crime prevention and investigation a new perspective about how fraudsters use resources to commit financial crimes and avoid detection.

Looking back, Doug was grateful for the networks and the interactions he shared with other ANU researchers, despite working fulltime as a research academic at a different Australian university. One of the high points of his PhD journey was the simple realisation that he is telling a story through his research.

“I think for me, the bit that stands out the most, the bit that made everything, and I mean everything, fall into place, was the moment that I finally realised that a PhD thesis is simply a story, a beautifully complex story, but a story, nonetheless,” he reflected.

“It was at this moment when the imposter syndrome fell away, and I finally felt like everything began to fall into place.”

Speaking as a mature aged student with more work years behind him than most who start their PhD candidature, Doug has some tips for students in the same scenario as him.

“Have confidence that the experiences you bring with you are of value, but remember, there is a time and a place to share those experiences, and there is a time and place to listen. Have confidence that while others might be stronger in some areas, they will perceive strengths in you that you never knew you had,” he said.

“A PhD is not just about you, it is also about those who support you, who give you space, who help you step back, who feed you, console you and encourage you. Look after the team around you, and they will look after you.”

We wish Doug all the best with his future endeavours and hope his story inspires the next cohort of PhD scholars.