Interview of Deb Mak by Isabella Roxburgh
Hey Deb, how are you?
Good—if I had to rate it out of 10, i would probably be around an 8.
Where do you call home?
Canberra, Australia. Despite all the jokes about it being too small or not cool enough, the people are the best and I suppose that’s what home is.
Tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m 24, an only child, and I studied Arts/Law at the ANU. My parents were born in Hong Kong and moved here over 30 years ago—we’re close. I live with three other young women and a grey boy cat, and want to move overseas in the next year.
What are some experiences you’ve had that have made you stronger?
I think growing up Asian in Australia has been really hard for me at times and as I get older I am learning a lot about myself and my identity. I don’t know if it’s necessarily actually making me stronger in the sense that it’s not a real struggle sometimes—I still have a big feeling of not fitting in—but I think learning more about it and being more comfortable and confident in myself has helped.
Why did you decide to get involved in law?
I suppose I was lucky as I wasn’t sure of what I wanted to study at uni, so I tried law and I ended up liking it. I got really involved when I realised that working in law gives you the opportunity to help people navigate and understand an extremely complex legal system. The law obviously affects so much around us on an everyday basis, but so many of us (and I would include myself in this) would really struggle to navigate the legal system if we found ourselves caught up in it. I’ve worked in family and criminal law so far, and have found that those are certainly areas where everyday expectations of how the system works is very different to how it actually works. I think being able to assist people with that kind of knowledge is important.
What is something that you find rewarding about your work?
Getting to encounter people from so many different backgrounds. There are so many people that are so inspiring because they have had the hardest times and the most devastating setbacks, but somehow they are still going. They have this crazy endurance and dedication that I didn’t know was possible.
What is something that you find challenging?
I find that law is really competitive. I have found it hard not to let the competition get to me at times. I’m getting better at it by focusing on what I’m doing instead of comparing myself to others constantly, but obviously comparing yourself to someone is a really easy thing to do even though it’s not healthy.
What advice do you have for girls who want to get involved in law?
Don’t just study it, get involved in extracurricular activities—in particular volunteer at a community legal centre or a community organisation if you can. It will give you a whole new practical perspective and help you get your head out of the books for a while. When I was at uni I was initially really turned off by the idea of extracurriculars, but once I started doing it I loved it. It helped me meet like-minded people and see a different side of what I was studying.
If you could give your 15-year-old self some advice, what would it be?
Converse All Stars won’t be as trendy in two years, so you probably don’t need 8 pairs.
What do you do to relax?
Watch Gilmore Girls and try to make the cat hang out with me.
What are five things that fascinate you?
The kindness of strangers in nightclub bathrooms; how painful period pain is every time and how I seem to forget it in between each period; how much happier I am when there is more daylight; animals dealing with seeing their reflections; and how everyone dances differently.
Who is your heroine?
My mum. She is a professor of psychology with a focus on migrants and how they adapt to living in a new country. She has worked so hard for her whole academic career and has achieved so much but is so humble about it. Her passion and drive for what she does is really inspiring to me, and how she is determined to make a difference and is focused on helping individual people.
And, finally, what is something you’ve done that you are proud of?
Sometimes I think that being able to say you’re proud of something doesn’t come that easily to young women, and I’ve noticed that in my friends. I see what they’re achieving and all the wonderful things they’re doing, and I’m so proud of each and every one of them. I feel like every one of my friends is a superstar overachiever in their field. But when I think about myself it’s more difficult, and I think maybe sometimes I credit others with my own achievements because it’s easier than standing up and being like, “I am proud of this.” So maybe what I am actually proud of is being able to surround myself with strong independent women who are so great at everything they do.