An and her colleagues visiting an organic farm near Hanoi
An and her colleagues visiting an organic farm near Hanoi

This month we caught up with CSC Masters alumna An Nguyen, who is working as Country Manager for the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) in Vietnam. 

Briefly tell us what you’ve been doing since you left UQ.

After the Master study at UQ, I returned to my office at ACIAR in Vietnam. I’d worked as Assistant Country Manager for the ACIAR Vietnam Program since 2008 and returned to the same position after the Masters. However, I felt that I received more trust from my supervisor and colleagues after my studies. I was in the same office and held the same position, but I was required to write more and travel alone more often, representing my supervisor and delivering speeches at project workshops. I became the Acting Country Manager when the Country Manager decided to move back to Australia in June last year and was officially promoted to the Country Manager position last month.

What is your current role at ACIAR? What is a normal day for you?
My current role is to run the office of three staff and manage a program of 16 projects, worth approximately A$5 million a year for collaborative research between Australia and Vietnam for agricultural development. After receiving the new position, my role has slightly changed. Before, I mainly worked to assist project monitoring and evaluation. Now, I spend more time working on program strategy, and developing new projects. Communication remains very important and even more strategic in my new position. My typical day is full of meetings and emails, communicating with different internal and external stakeholders, including colleagues from ACIAR Headquarters and the Embassy as well as with project leaders and coordinators from Australian and Vietnamese institutions and other stakeholders involved in managing the program.
 
What do you enjoy most about the work you do? What’s most surprising?
The most enjoyable thing about my work is travelling to different rural areas around the country. Apart from work, I have opportunities to see beautiful places and try special dishes of local people from around Vietnam, which many of my colleagues at the Embassy feel envious of. I like sharing meals with ethnic minority groups because they are so warm and different. Among H’mong, Thai and Dao people, I found that Thai cooking is sophisticated and delicious. In addition, I realised that the language of the Thai ethnic minority group in the North West of Viet Nam is somewhat similar to the language of Thai people in Bangkok, where I used to live in for a few years. 
 
What are you most passionate about achieving in your career?
We are working hard to make sure that our research results answer the needs of smallholder farmers in Vietnam and help the remote regions to develop as they wish. I feel that my work is meaningful because I can contribute to help poor and vulnerable farmers to improve their livelihood through applying advanced farming practices and creating better linkages to markets. 
 
Do you think that the work you do now is communication for social change? Why/ why not?
I do think my work involves communication for social change. In the long term, we aim for sustainable development in the rural and remote areas by getting farmers to adopt improved techniques for agricultural production while saving their natural resources, to be able to access profitable markets and increase their incomes. To facilitate this process we need to make sure all stakeholders have a shared vision and quite often we should negotiate to balance stakeholders’ benefits at different stages. For example, when we develop a new research project, we should make sure that the project objectives are in line with the priorities of the two countries, and more importantly, that it addresses the needs of Vietnamese farmers in their particular context.  
 
What is the most important thing that you learnt during the Masters?
I have learnt a lot from the Masters program, from research to writing skills. I recalled each assignment had a specific requirement and helped us build up some particular knowledge and skills. But the most important thing I am carrying with me is ways of thinking. In the few last months at UQ, when I was in the process of completing my thesis, I learned to appreciate the importance of research methodologies. It has improved my approaches in assessing many things, especially in monitoring and evaluating ACIAR’s projects, or developing new strategies at work.
 
What would be your advice to people coming up through their Masters now?
I guess one person's advice will not fit all. However, each student needs to ask her or himself two questions: ‘why do I want to study this?’ before the Masters and ‘what have I learned from this process?’ on completion of the program. If he or she can answer the first one before starting, the Masters program at UQ will be flexible enough for them to select courses and balance between theories and practices, between methodologies and skills as per their needs to achieve their particular goals. The second question will help them pick up the best of their learning process for their real life application.  
 
What are your dreams and ambitions from here?
There are two things that I wish to achieve in the future: i) Ensuring that the ACIAR Country Program in Vietnam will be managed in a constructive way to help Vietnamese farmers. I'd like to make sure that more people in need are able to access good research results from our projects; and ii) That I will have time to prepare a journal article to publish and share my thesis with a larger audience. 

An talking to oyster farmers on their raft in Quang Ninh province

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 An talking to oyster farmers on their raft in Quang Ninh province.

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