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A/Prof Benjamin Penny

A/Prof Benjamin Penny

2020 Award for Excellence in Supervision Winner

School of Culture, History and Language

Ben Penny is recognised for his outstanding supervisory practice and the confidence and creativity he inspires among his students. He has a sterling track record of supervision with testimonials attesting to a strong commitment to not only nurturing student research but also helping PhD students develop into mature scholars, thinkers, and leaders. Ben is clearly a devoted and thoughtful supervisor who draws on the best practices of supervision, combining these with a genuine concern and empathy for his students who are glowing in their praise of his thorough and ongoing support for them.


Since 2003, Benjamin Penny has so far successfully graduated fifteen PhD students, across a very wide range of topics from archaeology to Turkish media studies, and medieval Korean Confucianism to contemporary Chinese economic anthropology, with one more now making very minor corrections before final submission. All now work in universities in Australia, New Zealand, Turkey, UK, and China, or DFAT, DIO, or the Department of Education, Skills and Employment in the Australian public service.

He has taken on a number of PhD students who started with other supervisors but, for different reasons, could not continue with them. He has now seen several of these students – who experienced considerable pedagogical and emotional disruption to their studies – through to graduation and employment.

In his supervision he tries to develop students’ critical thinking, curiosity, disciplinary self-reflection, academic humility, the courage to try out ideas, and the skill to see things differently. He does not regard graduation as signalling the end of the relationship between supervisor and student but continues to mentor his students by offering career advice, reading manuscripts, and by involving them in ongoing research projects.

What did students say about his supervision?

"Dr. Penny has been a great source of encouragement to me since I arrived at the ANU. Even before formally serving in a supervisory role, he took a keen interest in my studies and area of focus and was always eager to answer my questions and provide ideas and pointers for further avenues of enquiry. I first benefited from Dr. Penny’s formal supervision for a translation project as part of my Master of Translation program. His guidance through this process was foundational to my subsequent development and he was enormously generous with his time, despite being technically on long service leave. As a result of this project, I felt confident enough to continue with the advanced level of the program and was again fortunate to be supervised by him for the masters thesis. Here again his enormous erudition and ability to instill fine habits of critical thinking assisted me greatly and I was awarded a High Distinction which enabled me to continue with my current doctoral program."

"Dr Penny has been encouraging and supportive throughout my PhD program. He supervised me with guiding questions, provoking thoughts, patience, and faith that eventually led to my PhD thesis. We met and discussed my PhD research project on a regular basis and each time I was inspired by Dr Penny's comments and ways of thinking. As a non‐native speaker, Dr Penny initiated a pair‐work writing mode to improve my academic writing. At the end of this writing exercise, I was able to identify several writing pitfalls caused by my mother tongue and have applied the acquired writing skills in various occasions such as research paper and grant applications.

At the beginning of my PhD studies, Dr Penny established a religious reading group to help me develop an in‐depth and comprehensive understanding of my research field. In addition, he invited me to attend several international seminars. Through attending these seminars, I have not only established networks with experts outside of the ANU but also have been able to be involved in discussions on religious studies that are based in a global context."

Updated:  24 April, 2017/Responsible Officer:  Dean, ANU College of Asia & the Pacific/Page Contact:  CAP Web Team