A WISE Event: All the Career Possibilities

One brisk Monday night, a large roomful of women gathered in the silver mirrored SAHMRI building to hear from three amazing women / successful scientists who have trodden a wide range of career pathways and ended up in jobs very different to those they first imagined.

The first speaker was Dr Kate Gridley, now a Research Coordinator in the Division of Health Sciences at the University of South Australia. Check out Dr Gridley’s homepage at – http://people.unisa.edu.au/Kate.Gridley

Dr Gridley started with showing us the difference between her assumed career path once she had finished studying, to the path she actually took – winding in and out of different positions.

The jump from hands on PhD research, to a more administerial position required a serious effort in translation. Mostly, the translation of all the skills Dr Gridley had honed during her PhD to be shown as applicable and valuable skills for non-research work. She spoke of learning to, “sell myself as an asset…” and, “remaining open to any options”.

Dr Gridley finished with asking us, the audience, to think more about our future career and to practice selling ourselves and our skills as transferable to any position.

Next we heard from Dr Kristin Alford, currently the Director of the Science Creativity Education (Sci. C. Ed.) Studio and part of the University of South Australia. The Sci.C.Ed. Studio is set to open in 2018 and will have a mixture of permanent and seasonal exhibits. To learn more about Sci.C.Ed check out their information page –  http://www.unisa.edu.au/science-creativity-education/

Dr Alford started off by comparing her current descriptive title of “A Futurist” with her incredibly technical PhD in Engineering Processes in QLD. The story of her career described incredible leaps from one position and field to the next, assisted by favourable impressions made on past colleagues, bosses and mentors. Dr Alford leapt into the field of science communication by becoming an advocate, communicator and educator for new nano-technology. She has also, until recently, been the licensee for TEDX Adelaide.

Dr Alford’s parting words were to never underestimate the value of your peers and that we should try to take every opportunity that comes our way, because… “how hard could it be?”

The final speaker for the night was Dr Ixchel Brennan, now a partner of Corporate Engagement and Development for UniSA Ventures at the University of South Australia. Follow the link to read her home page – http://people.unisa.edu.au/Ixchel.Brennan

She too began her education and career under very different circumstances. Dr Brennan completed a PhD in appetite and gut function and finished with the full success of many papers published, many conferences presented at, and plenty of career options. But although there were strong expectations for her to continue into an academic career, she felt this wasn’t for her.

Dr Brennan emphasised the importance of learning how to package your skills for varying contexts and careers. She spoke of the need to be able to effectively communicate your differentiated skill set, and that a PhD is so much more than just your research focus. It is also an intense crash course in all project management, communication and creative problem solving skills, so don’t sell yourself short.

Her final advice was to, “Resist the option of knowing what your dream job is”, as she had seen others do – because you never know what jobs will come along, or even what jobs will exist in the future.

From her own experiences, Dr Brennan told us some of the lessons she had learnt along the way:

  • Seek a mentor not form an academic position (they will give you a different perspective).
  • You do not always need to say “Yes” and your job doesn’t define who you are.
  • Be willing to work with people and in roles that push you outside your comfort zone. This is where you learn the most about yourself – what you’re good at and what you could improve.
  • Have confidence in your skills and your contribution.
  • Say “Thank you” and say it often.
  • Emotion does not equal weakness.
  • and finally, that “Authenticity will always shine through”.

It was a wonderful WISE event and I was so glad I attended. It was a relief to hear that these undeniably successful women had been through so many changes, upsets, choices and career transitions. I can’t speak for the other women who attended, but I for one am feeling much more hopeful and less stressed about where I might end up career-wise, after my PhD experience.


Thanks to all the event organisers, SAHMRI, the University of Adelaide, the University of South Australia and Flinders University, and a particular thank you to the speakers – you were inspiring!

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