In touch with… Sarah John

As the US election looms, we talk to Dr Sarah John, an adjunct with Flinders University’s Jeff Bleich Centre, whose work focuses on US electoral systems.

What is your current role?

I’m based in the Washington DC area, and I help organise Flinders’ wonderful Washington Internship Program. I also studied at Flinders as an undergrad (Law/International Studies ’06) and did my PhD at Flinders.

Can you briefly describe the journey to this point in your career?

My undergraduate studies at Flinders inspired me to do a PhD, study US politics, and work in the United States.

I have managed research at several Washington DC-based nonprofits, including FairVote, a nonprofit that advocates for Australian-style preferential voting in the US. I am currently working at the University of Virginia, managing a project on 19th Century Kentucky politics and consulting.

What does your research focus on at present?

My work focuses on electoral systems in the United States, especially on the adoption and effects of preferential voting (called ‘ranked choice’ voting). Identifying the effects of electoral systems is fertile ground right now, with so many electoral rules changing in response to COVID-19.

Can you share a challenge and how you dealt with it?

From about the second year of my undergraduate studies on, US politics fascinated me. I decided I wanted to work in the United States. Toward the end of my PhD, I made the leap and sought out a fellowship at an American university, with plans to teach and apply for tenure track positions there. The fellowship and teaching I was able to do, but the search for a permanent academic position was a no go.  I dealt with this by seeking out applied research positions to build up my CV so that I could eventually make the leap.

Can you share a proud moment or something you are particularly proud of?

That’s a tough question. I do feel a sense of pride when I see how students grow during the duration of the Washington Internship Program – working on Capitol Hill, living and learning independently in a new country – but that’s something I can claim only a small role in.

How do you relax in your spare time?

Lately, with social distancing still in effect in the US, I’ve been exploring the Blue Ridge and the Appalachian Mountains with my two pugs. I grew up in rural South Australia where there are, of course, no mountains, so I take every opportunity to wander in mountains.

Before COVID, I loved exploring the American West, taking in the windshield-filling scenery, hiking in the mountains, and exploring new cities.


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