From researcher to RAND

26 August 2015

When Nathan Ryan arrived in Canberra to study at the ANU after completing his undergraduate degree, he soon learned that cybersecurity was more than just passwords on a laptop, but involved the high politics of nation-states.

Less than three years later, after obtaining the Advanced Master in National Security Policy from the ANU National Security College (NSC), Nathan is heading off to the RAND Corporation – one of the world’s pre-eminent think tanks – to take up a post in the United Kingdom as an Associate Analyst in Cyber Policy.

Along the way he encountered and seized opportunities in research, teaching and overseas study that he could never have imagined when first shopping around for a Master’s degree.

“I majored in philosophy and the history and philosophy of science,” Nathan recalls. “I also enjoyed studying political economy, so I was looking for something that would take me from theory into practice, that threads it all together – and that’s when national security came up.”

“What clinched it for me was the calibre of the academics at the National Security College. I quickly realised that this isn’t just a day job for the people who work in this space. You are here, in Canberra, surrounded by government and all the security agencies – people live and breathe it. It gave the impression of getting a seat at the ‘big boys’ table’ – serious people doing serious things – that this is going to be a career. And I wasn’t disappointed.”

A chat with Professor Rodger Bradbury, head of the NSC’s cyberspace research program, convinced Nathan to upgrade to the Advanced Masters and take on the challenge of a 15,000 word sub-thesis. Nathan was also fortunate to secure a part-time Research Assistant position in the program, where he put together an ontology of cyberspace while working on his sub-thesis.

“I took an interdisciplinary approach in an attempt to break new ground at the juncture between complexity science, philosophy and cyber security,” says Nathan about his sub-thesis. “I analysed how states use cyber power both inside the environment of cyberspace, which alters the local cyber ecology, and outside the environment by manipulating events, processes or information to obtain preferred outcomes.”

Most recently, Nathan won a scholarship to an intensive complex systems course at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and has been tutoring in the NSC’s new ‘Statecraft and National Security in Cyberspace’ course. And being one of the most accomplished rowers at ANU – Nathan has won the University’s Half Blue – may have been of some assistance when securing a job based a short stroll from the University of Cambridge. 

Nathan is now looking forward to putting the skills he acquired at the National Security College to practical use, representing RAND at various forums, providing strategic advice to governments and clients, and advocating for rigorous policy development in the cyber field.

“The biggest challenge in cyber is getting the technical and policy parts to work together,” Nathan says. “It’s the multidisciplinary approach to public policy making that I learned here that will help me tackle the wicked problems it throws up.”

Are you interested in studying for a Master of National Security policy? Find out more about it here or visit us at the Asia-Pacific stand at the ANU Open Day on 29 August.

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Updated:  11 January, 2015/Responsible Officer:  Dean, ANU College of Asia & the Pacific/Page Contact:  CAP Web Team