When Robin Visser set off from his home in the Netherlands to tackle the time-honoured holiday trek around Australia, tackling a PhD probably wasn’t at the top of his travel itinerary.
But in late 2013, ten months after arriving in Perth, Robin had traded in his backpack to begin a PhD thesis in commercial diplomacy.
‘I came to Australia for a long overdue trip which turned out to be much longer that I'd anticipated! But with some hiccups, some work experience – and a lot of effort – I handed in my thesis in February 2017,’ he recalls.
Straight out of school in the Netherlands, Robin completed an undergraduate degree in industrial engineering and management at the University of Twente.
‘It was a combination of business administration and operations management and I immediately followed this with a master’s degree in business administration (with an international management specialisation) which I completed in 2011,’ he explains.
After working as an IT account manager, he then began a follow-up research project (from his master’s thesis) before deciding to head to Australia for a holiday.
‘While I was there, I ended up contacting several potential supervisors in Australian universities and Deakin’s Prof. Pasquale Sgro was very positive. After submitting by research proposal and CV, Deakin was the first to come back to me and offer a scholarship,’ he explains.
Robin’s interest in commercial diplomacy research began during his search for a master’s thesis topic and his connection with Dr. Huub Ruël who was working in the area. Building on this work, Robin’s Deakin PhD thesis explores the role of diplomatic representations in facilitating international trade.
‘The idea behind them doing this is that they are well placed to perform search and networking activities that lower entry costs for firms,’ he says.
Robin explains that his research is the most comprehensive and extensive analysis of commercial diplomacy (yet undertaken) and it contributes to empirical studies on the intermediary role of commercial diplomacy.
‘Its integrative empirical analysis addresses important overarching gaps identified in the literature, such as the lack of a comprehensive study of the effect of office-level activities and resources on trade, and an assessment of commercial diplomacy as a network intermediary for the first time and from a variety of perspectives.’
The research will help policymakers make the best decisions for the location and organisation of diplomatic offices.
‘More specifically, it can assist in the installation of new commercial diplomacy offices (and the establishment of new trade connections) and whether there is a greater need for a commercial diplomacy office in one country over another,’ he says.
Utilising his quantitative and economic skills, Robin is now employed as a research analyst with Melbourne’s Wyndham City Council where he’s applying his skills to the diverse issues that affect one of the state’s fastest-growing municipalities.
‘My position provides a lot of scope to work on matters relating to the demographic and socio-economic changes. It’s an excellent role and, with my qualifications and skills, I feel very appreciated and supported.’
In the meantime, Robin is looking forward publishing some of his research and has a number of papers in various stages of development. Reflecting on his PhD journey, he says that one of the most rewarding aspects has been the development of an entirely new set of research skills.
'Four years ago I would never have dreamed of producing what I did. The growth I’ve experienced in this process is immense. In addition, the skills that I've developed have put me on a career trajectory that I'm very happy with so I’d says that's a very decent reward.’