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04 Nov 2022
Featured EMCRs
By SHAPE Futures

Meet Australia’s SHAPE EMCRs – Dr Laura Smith-Khan

Meet the stellar Dr Laura Smith-Khan, a Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Faculty of Law at the University of Technology Sydney and the 2022 recipient of the Max Crawford Medal from the Australian Academy of the Humanities. Her research examines the inclusion and participation of minoritized groups in legal settings, especially migration processes, addressing inequality.

How did you come to be a researcher?

During my undergraduate study (first in languages and politics, and later in law), I developed a love for researching and writing. The moment where I knew I just had to find a way to become a researcher was in my final year of law, during work on an assignment, when I discovered an area of research that brought my different interests together: work that considered language and communication issues in asylum seeking processes. This short undergraduate essay paved the way for a Master’s project, then my PhD, and since then, an ongoing area of research.

Tell us about your research 

My research examines the inclusion and participation of minoritised groups in legal settings, and has predominately focused on migration processes. In this work, I’m interested in turning the spotlight onto legal and policy frameworks and the practices of powerful actors and how these impact on minority participants’ experiences. My work has a strong interdisciplinary approach; I’m particularly interested in introducing and applying sociolinguistic methods and scholarship to this area of inquiry, and more broadly exploring how sociolinguistics can inform legal scholarship, education and practice.

Why does your work matter?

I believe that my interdisciplinary approach can offer fresh insight to address issues of social inequality. It has the potential to positively inform law and policymaking, decision-making, and legal practice, with the ultimate goal of improving social participation and experiences of refugees and other migrants.

What do you love most about being a researcher in the discipline of law?

I absolutely love doing research and I consider it a huge privilege that I am paid to spend my time reading, thinking, and talking about things that really matter to me, and that I find so interesting. I am grateful for every day that I get to do what I do. 

What are you working on now or intending to do next?

My current research focuses on Australian migration lawyers and Registered Migration Agents and examines how their beliefs and practices impact on their migrant clients’ participation in and experiences of migration processes. I’m interested in exploring how legal and regulatory frameworks, as well as educational requirements and experiences, help shape lawyers’ and agents’ ways of working and communicating, and how well these empower and mobilize lawyers’ and agents’ diverse skills.

What’s the one aspect you find most challenging about being an EMCR?

The most challenging thing about being an ECR is the insecurity and uncertainty that comes with being at an early point in my career. This is further exacerbated by being a first generation academic, and not always being confident about what I should be doing or planning to secure my future career.

On the other hand, I’m very lucky to have had great academic mentors that have helped me to reach where I am now, and who continue to support me, advising and assisting me well beyond the strict ambit of their professional responsibilities. Community and leadership are so crucial in this job.

What’s one piece of advice you have for EMCRs?

Follow your interests and passions, and don’t be scared to reach out to people whose work you admire – chances are they will be happy to offer you their encouragement and assist you however they can. You lose nothing by trying!

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Acknowledgement of Country

The Australian SHAPE EMCR Network recognises Australia’s First Nations Peoples as the Traditional Owners and custodians of this land, and pays respect to Elders past and present. We acknowledge the continued cultural and spiritual connections to Country and community.