The inaugural meeting of the 2017 NSW IMNIS Mentees (we’re open to suggestions for a catchier name!) took place in late April.

The concept of the meetup was so popular that even some mentors expressed interest in coming along. Unfortunately none were able to make the first one, but we hope to have special guests in the future. One keen applicant for the next IMNIS intake, Claudia, came along to hear about the mentee experiences so far!

Mentees from The University of Sydney and the University of Technology Sydney came together on neutral territory (a pub!) to discuss their IMNIS journeys [image: M. DeMayo]

Discussion at the meet up varied widely. It included further discussion of an IMNIS session held earlier that week, “The Value of Networking”. This was a happy coincidence, as chatting about that drove home some of the key messages. Having business cards, being able to succinctly describe what you do and finding your “in” when you are aiming to engage with a specific person were some of the mentee highlights. The advice that “you’re never just having a coffee” was one point of discussion – how to make networking coffees worthwhile.

A personal highlight for me was hearing about the range of industry positions that mentors held. Every IMNIS event I attend, I find out about new roles and new pathways within the industry sector, and this was no exception!

Navpreet Kaur Walia, a fellow contributor to the IMNIS blog, discussed the Red Cross Blood Service and her growing exposure to, and passion for, science communication. Navpreet’s explanations of science communication illustrated how widespread science communication is, I hadn’t previously considered how important it is organization such as the Red Cross (who I think do an outstanding job of it – for example, explaining where your blood or plasma donation goes).

Mentees offered reflection on the opportunities and challenges presented by their mentors. Anh explained that at each mentor meeting, she and her mentor were working through a hypothetical commercialisation of her PhD project, developing pitches and budgets, understanding the process that takes discovery from bench into the commercial sphere. She reflected that being paired “with such an engaged and supportive mentor, and who has given invaluable words of wisdom” had been invaluable for her. Tiziana’s mentor had arranged for her to have a coffee (but not “just” a coffee) with someone in a large pharmaceutical company where she discussed roles which may be suitable for her planned transition to industry after her PhD.

All the mentees felt that IMNIS had done an excellent job in creating the mentor-mentee pairs. The mentees were really appreciative of the time and effort mentors had put in, with some offering quite a structured approach (such as hypothetical commercialisation and development of targeted pitches for specific audiences) while other mentors have a more opportunistic style. Anh, reflected that participation in IMNIS had given her “a clearer insight into what industry entails”. A key outcome of the initiative! Attendees expressed appreciation for the opportunity to develop a relationship with someone outside of the academic “bubble”, who approached helping us develop skills (that will serve us well as we progress through our careers) with enthusiasm and a fresh set of eyes.

“I feel much more confident engaging with people both within and outside of my field, communicating to different audiences”

Finally, there was reflection on what happens to the mentor-mentee relationship after its formal IMNIS ends. We all are enjoying the program immensely; I personally recommend it highly to any students who are considering options outside academia. The experience, thus far, has been an incredibly valuable one, I feel much more confident engaging with people both within and outside of my field, communicating to different audiences (such as IMNIS blog readers) and am excited to see what’s next for all the mentees.

This enthusiasm is what brought about the IMNIS mentee meet up. A chance meeting with a fellow mentee, Tiziana, led to discussion about our experiences with the program. As we reflected, we thought it would be great to hear about different mentee perspectives. IMNIS supported the idea, creating a group with all the 2017 NSW Mentees for us to organize our own meeting. The concept of a mentee meetup was received with excitement, and discussion was enthusiastic, as participants shared lessons and advice from their mentors. One such example was using a PhD proposal as a basis for a foundations paper, recognising a concept that would be of interest to others within their field.

After the event, Anh, said the meetup had been a great opportunity to “reflect, discuss and share what we have learnt thus far on this journey”. A future meetup is in the works, hopefully with a special guest mentor. It may be that these meetups form an ongoing peer support group, even when our official participation in the program ends. Thank you to IMNIS for your support in making this happen!

About the author:

Marilena DeMayo is a PhD student at the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre. Her research focuses on the differences in brain development between children with autism and typically developing and investigating oxytocin as a potential treatment for children for autism, examining its effects on the brain. Marilena is passionate about improving the quality of life for people with autism through her research. As an inaugural mentee in the NSW MedTech-Pharma program, she has been expanding her networks and developing her communication skills.

LinkedIn: Marilena DeMayo

Twitter: @MMDeMayo